Heineken Cup: Aironi beaten before they set foot in Belfast
Aironi could well have done without the additional handicap of an ex-Parma re-routing via Venice where they then had a two-and-a-half hours delay en route to Belfast
Placed in pool 4 with Ulster, Bath and Biarritz Olympique, the Italian debutants were up against it from the moment the draw was made.
Ulster and Bath are past-winners of European club rugby’s top prize and Biarritz have twice been runners-up, the more recent of the two occasions being last season when Toulouse beat them in an all-French showdown in Paris.
On Friday, hours before the match against Ulster at Ravenhill, Aironi’s players declined the offer of a spot of sight-seeing in Belfast, instead preferring to visit their association football counterparts in the Hilton Hotel to wish them all the best against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park later in the evening.
The behaviour of the Aironi players was that of men who did not believe they might win. They were right; Ulster were far too good for them.
But the task is unlikely to be so easy when Ulster face Biarritz in southern France on Sunday afternoon, a fact not lost on coach Brian McLaughlin or his players.
“Biarritz were runners-up last year. They’re a smashing side so we’re under no illusions,” McLaughlin said.
Expressing his delight at having English referees in charge of their first two pool 4 fixtures he added: “We had Chris White against Aironi and we have Dave Pearson next week against Biarritz, so that’s a bonus for us.
“The English referees are slightly different in and around the breakdowns so that (the Aironi game) was a good tester for us.
“Aironi were a very tough, physical pack and it’s going to be no different in Biarritz at the weekend. We have to deal with that by making sure we match Biarritz’s physicality.”
Out-half Ian Humphreys, who made his first appearance of the season, said he was still a little rusty and admitted to having been guilty of “a few bad passes”.
“My kicking out of hand wasn’t great,” he said.
Ulster supporters will forgive him for that by virtue of what he added as a result of his attacking instinct coupled with his ability and desire to move the ball quickly.
“It was enjoyable,” was Humphreys’ post-Aironi view. “We all had the mindset that we were going to try and play a bit of rugby and lift the intensity,” he said.
“I thought the Italians at times were struggling to keep pace with us.”
But for what he called “a few mistakes” he felt Ulster could well have piled on the points. He knows they must be more ruthless next time out.
“We’ve got to tighten up on that against Biarritz and cut out the silly errors,” Humphreys said. “That’s the kind of challenge that will let us see how good we really are. If we perform as we know we can, hopefully we can get something out of the game.
“We’re still unbeaten, so we’re going down there full of confidence. Winning is a habit and at the minute we’ve got that.”
Man-of-the-match Robbie Diack highlighted the part the pack had played.
“All of the forwards played well. Everyone put their hand up to carry and when you’ve got eight looking to carry the ball, that makes everyone’s life a bit easier,” the No 8 said.
“Everyone was eager and keen and I’m sure it’s going to be the same next week.”