Ulster Rugby 48 - 0 Treviso: Let's triumph in Italy too
Seven tries scored and not a point conceded; Heineken Cup wins do not come any more comprehensive than Ulster's Pool 5 rout of Benetton Treviso on Saturday night at Ravenhill.
But, even in the warm afterglow of a job well done on a chilly night, coach Mark Anscombe (pictured) remembered to turn the clock back exactly 12 months.
Recalling the events of December 7, 2012 when Ulster trounced Northampton Saints 25-6 in their Heineken Cup round three meeting at Franklin's Gardens, the canny Kiwi pointed out they had then failed to follow it up a week later.
"We were sitting over in England this time last year and we were pretty happy with what we'd just achieved. We didn't back it up; we let ourselves down and that took away the opportunity of a home quarter [final]," he said.
"Hopefully that's what life is all about – you learn from your mistakes and your hiccups. Hopefully we have learned from ours."
Northampton won the Belfast re-match 10-9, Ulster's first defeat of a season which had begun with a run of 13 straight victories.
But Treviso are nothing like Northampton. Ulster took them on in the scrum, on which Treviso pride themselves, and won the battle hands down. Rather than it being a weapon in the Italians' armoury it became one which their opponents used to beat them.
Three first-half tries plus four more after the break confirmed Ulster's superiority. Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall (2), John Afoa, Dan Tuohy, Sean Doyle and Andrew Trimble touched down, with Jackson adding five conversions and a penalty to end the night with a personal tally of 18 points.
Having led 22-0 at the break, by which stage they had scored three tries, the opening 15 minutes of the second period saw Ulster unable to re-establish rhythm, pattern or momentum. Bizarrely, that only returned when Marshall was sin-binned.
The 10-minute absence of the centre – who had a magnificent match in midfield alongside the equally impressive Darren Cave – kick-started the Ulster engine and once it got going it purred all the way to the final whistle.
The victors' had big performers in every department, with the front row outstanding, both in set-piece and loose play. Loose-head Tom Court, hooker Rob Herring – the sponsors' man of the match – and Afoa shone. The back row of Robbie Diack, Heineken Cup debutant Doyle and Roger Wilson worked tirelessly and productively, too.
Jackson, on his 50th Ulster appearance, had another very good night at fly-half, while Jared Payne underlined just how very good – and clever – a footballer he is. His part in Marshall's 16th minute try was a thing of beauty.
Cave's angles and passes out of the tackle – a real highlight – resulted in him playing a key part in the creation of four tries, Marshall's first and Tuohy's 59th minute score being prime examples.
Ulster's scrum, their work-rate around the park, the quality of their play from re-starts – where Tuohy excelled – and their well-blended cocktail of physicality and skill saw them out-fight, out-think and ultimately out-play Treviso. Importantly, they did so without picking up any serious injuries.
"There's a few knocks, but nothing, touch wood, that I think is going to take anyone out of selection," Anscombe confirmed.
As for his side's performance en route to their maximum-haul triumph he said: "You're always happy after a win. The manner in which we went about our work and to score seven tries, nearly score 50 points and concede none, you've got to be happy."
Emphasising that Treviso are a vastly experienced side he said: "At the end of the day they have a lot of international footballers in their team. They didn't come here and lie down so you've got to give credit to the boys for the way they laid that foundation to put on seven tries."
Highlighting the parts played by newcomers to Heineken Cup rugby, Anscombe said: "Rob (Herring) first start, outstanding. Sean Doyle first start outstanding.
"And then a few of the boys off the bench who hadn't had a lot of Heineken Cup experience, I thought they really acquitted themselves well tonight."
He anticipates a big response from the wounded Italians when the sides meet again on Saturday in Treviso.
"We've got enough experience and we know that no two days are the same in this game. We'll enjoy tonight but we know it's another challenge, a different challenge, next week," he said.
"We're not at home, it's in Treviso and they have a proud home record. Just look at their performances there this year – they've had some good wins and when they've been beaten it's only been just.
"When you're playing teams that have that quality and the number of internationals they have, they're not going to back up next week with another performance like that, so we're not going to kid ourselves that it's going to be a walk-over.
"There were things there that were good today, there were things that we have to be better at, and they'll bring a different challenge next week."
Ulster skipper Johann Muller admitted he had been moved by the impeccably observed pre-match silence in memory of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
"It's obviously a sad weekend and sad news and the respect that everybody showed out there tonight, in a different country, means a lot to us. Credit to the crowd; I thought it was a special moment," he said.