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Aironi target Bath upset

Italian minnows Aironi have been challenged to "make a statement" in this season's Heineken Cup - and that could be bad news for Bath.

While Bath are expected to emerge as comfortable victors when they visit the 6,000-capacity Stadio Luigi Zaffanella on Saturday, Pool Four opponents Aironi have no intention of rolling over.

"The Bath match is absolutely huge for us," said Aironi's defence coach Rowland Phillips. "We appreciate Bath will be strong favourites, but we want to continue developing our game and, be it on Saturday against Bath or some other time somewhere else, we want to make a statement."

He added: "We want to make that statement and not just drift through this Heineken Cup campaign. We want to play a real part in it and be of some influence in our group.

"I know others may have different ideas about Italian rugby, but I can assure you the one thing they don't lack is passion. And that passion to both improve and be competitive is one of the great strengths of the Italian game."

Viadana-based Aironi, formed earlier this year, lost their European opener away to Ulster last week and they are struggling in the Magners League, but Phillips added: "The big plus is having a group of players who are so keen to learn. No-one was suggesting there would be miracles in our first few months, and it is vital we build on what we are doing towards next season and the seasons after that."

While Bath look to kick-start their European campaign following a 12-11 home defeat against Biarritz last Sunday, Saracens also need a response when they face Pool Two opponents Leinster at Wembley on Saturday.

Saracens are on the back of a 25-10 loss to Clermont Auvergne and realistically cannot afford another defeat, while Northampton will be wary of a Pool One appointment with Edinburgh at Murrayfield after scraping past Castres last time out.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Jonny Wilkinson is expected to be rested for Toulon's Pool Two clash against Munster in Limerick, Newport Gwent Dragons host Heineken Cup holders and Pool Six favourites Toulouse, with Clermont visiting Racing Metro.

Friday night's action sees London Irish, fresh from beating Munster, aiming to strengthen their quarter-final claims from Pool Three when they tackle the Ospreys in Swansea, and Cardiff Blues visiting Castres.


From Belfast Telegraph