Belfast Telegraph

Heineken Cup: Ulster relishing date with destiny

He may have an Italian-sounding name, but all Simon Danielli wants to bring home from Italy this weekend is a place in the last eight of the Heineken Cup.

The goal which has eluded successive Ulster teams since 1999 is tantalisingly close and the flying Scotsman has no intention of seeing them fail to achieve it yet again.

“It’s in our own hands and we haven’t had that in years. We’ve obviously got to finish that now,” said Danielli as he prepared for Saturday’scrucial game against Aironi.

Last season’s disappointment of failing not only to make the last eight of the Heineken Cup, but also missing out on qualification for the Amlin Cup, left a scar on the Ulster psyche.

“Last year we had that game against Bath and it was brilliant that we won and scored some great tries,” said Danielli

“Then the next day that was taken away from us and that sort of finished our season.

“That has spurred us on a little this season, I think and made us realise what a big deal this is.

“It’s nice not having to rely on other results this weekend, like we were last year. “When you know that everything is in your control that’s a good thing.

“It’s good to know that if we do our job and come away with a win then we’re in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.”

Danielli rejects any suggestion that, because qualification for either of the two European competitions is beyond them, Aironi will be a team totally devoid of motivation.

“I don’t think you’ll ever have a team with no motivation,” he said.

“Even within the parameters of that squad you’ll have people fighting for places or for international honours with the Six nations coming. So while the pressure is off them to a certain extent, the Italians are a proud bunch.

“If you look at their results at home, they’re definitely a different animal from what they are away.

“Aironi have beaten Biarritz at home and while they have been beaten away from home quite convincingly a few times, last week being no exception, back home they’re a different team.

“This is their last home game in the Heineken Cup in their first year in a new competition so we shouldn’t be taking them lightly.

“We shouldn’t treat this as a foregone conclusion. It’s going to be a tough game. Looking at the games they’ve played and the tries that teams have scored against them, often it seems to be on counter-attack, broken field play and turn-overs.

“Their actual set piece defence is pretty strong so it’s just going to be a case of doing all the basics as well as we can and taking any opportunities we get.

“The win is the essential thing and to get that we need to start well. The start is massive for us. If we can start the game well, get ascendancy — maybe an early try or a couple of penalties to put us a few points up — then that’s going to be crucial.

“A big start is the key to this game for us.”

Reflecting on the atmosphere in the Ulster camp following last weekend's crucial victory over Biarritz, Danielli admitted that the mood among the players and coaching staff has been excellent.

“Winning makes for a much more enjoyable weekend. There’s always a much better buzz around the squad when you’ve won,” he said.

“When you’ve lost games you come in and there’s more of a deflated feeling in the squad. Obviously in that situation the goal then is to bring it back up again, but winning just does that for you naturally, so it was a good weekend and it has been a good start to the week.”

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