Belfast Telegraph

Success close, but not yet for Aironi

By Michael Sadlier

The ledger is still not pleasant reading with a glaring deficit when it comes to auditing for any success.

Indeed the situation has anything but improved since Aironi last met Ulster at the back end of January when they were on the end of a 43-6 Heineken Cup|drubbing.

Last Sunday’s 20-10 home defeat to league leaders Munster was another grim milestone for the newcomers as they racked up their 15th defeat in, well, 15 games leaving them firmly wedged to the bottom of the table, a whopping 18 points adrift of nearest side Glasgow Warriors.

Their debut season was never likely to be an easy one but, even so, five losing bonus points from their 15 league outings is still a poor return no matter how you might try to dress it up.

If nothing else the Italians will at least be reasonably familiar with Ulster, tonight being the fourth time the sides have crossed swords this season thanks to their pairing in the group stages of the Heineken Cup.

Ah yes, Europe. It’s still hard to believe it happened but it did. On the afternoon of December 11 they ended up beating Biarritz 28-27 in an astonishing result which gave Aironi a great morale boost but still failed to halt the Basque club topping Ulster’s pool and, more pertinently for the Italians, has in no way been replicated since with their league form.

Since then coach Rowland Phillips’ squad have shipped nine straight defeats which you would assume will have seriously sapped morale and motivation. However, despite all the difficulty, there have actually been signs of some recent improvement.

Aironi have been competitive, albeit against teams weakened by international commitments, and but for a barrel-load of missed kicks, well, things might not be what they are now.

Against Munster, they helped defeat themselves thanks to three missed penalties from James Marshall, along with two expensive yellow cards for winger Giulo Toniolatti and flanker Gareth Krause. The week before the Dragons were visiting and came away with an 18-3 win helped by some awful defensive lapses and two missed penalties from Tito Tebaldi and one from Marshall which would at least have ensured a losing bonus point.

Last month they travelled to Dublin to take on a youthful and under-strength Leinster and only a late score sealed the result for the hosts 21-16.

Still, there was the encouragement of a losing bonus point — their first away from home.

So, though they have still not won in the league you can’t help but get the feeling that Aironi might be inching closer to breaking their duck.

Maybe, but surely not tonight.

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