Aironi learn lesson in discipline
It would be unfair to suggest that Aironi lost the run of themselves in their 33-17 defeat to Munster on Saturday in Musgrave Park, but the match undoubtedly swung the home side's way once the pressure came on just after half-time and fiery prop Salvatore Perugini was sent to the bin.
The danger of game-conceding Italian indiscipline had been flagged beforehand, given the inevitable enthusiasm that accompanied Aironi's desire to make a powerful opening-night statement, allied to the abrasiveness of their grizzled front five.
Munster were always favourites but Perugini's removal when the scores were tied at 11-11 allowed the hosts to strike ruthlessly for a brace of tries and Aironi's unlikely path to victory swiftly transformed into a cul-de-sac of bitter experience.
They can still be pleased with their combative league debut and, on this evidence, they will do damage, particularly at home.
While there was evidence of defensive frailty when Munster turned the screw, the grittiness of Aironi's pack makes them competitive, Tito Tebaldi is developing into an extremely useful scrum-half and they will take considerable encouragement from the superb backline movement that saw Julien Laharrague score a contender for try of the season.
In these circumstances, a bonus-point win was an extremely satisfying return for Munster coach Tony McGahan and backed up the encouraging signs in pre-season — notably at scrum time.
“We knew they would come with a very strong set piece and a very good scrum, so we needed to make sure we scrummaged for the full 80 minutes, and I thought we did that to a great extent,” said McGahan, who was able to substitute his entire front row on 54 minutes with no let up in scrum intensity.
“We're by no means the finished article (in the scrum), but we're making progress each week, and that's really important. We need to make sure that we focus on our own ball first, and then continue to do decent work on their ball.”
As for Aironi, this was a lesson in the dangers of not getting in a flap when the heat is on and they will be the better for it. Ulster will not relish taking on the herons in their own nest next weekend.