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Beating Ospreys just the start for Ulster

By Niall Crozier

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has stressed the need to build on last weekend’s winning start to the Magners League.

With consistency his current buzz-word, he has spent the past few days reminding his players that defeat negates victory.

The Ospreys game is history — time to move on.

With Rory Best and Stephen Ferris unavailable due to the IRFU’s player management requirements and fellow-international Dan Tuohy absent through injury, Chris Henry is expected to be named in the panel for this weekend’s trip to northern Italy where newcomers Aironi will seek to burst Ulster’s bubble.

The Viadana-bound party is named tomorrow.

Having had time out following Ireland’s summer tour of New Zealand and Australia, Henry is fit and very keen to play.

Ferris’s unavailability leaves a back row vacancy — and creates options.

Henry, for example, could come in at No 8 and if that were to happen Pedrie Wannenburg could switch to the blindside flank.

Other than Best and Ferris, all of last Friday night’s forwards are available which means McLaughlin has options once again.

The same is true behind the pack, with all of those who started against Ospreys in the mix. Ditto the replacements.

In addition, fit-again Jamie Smith is in the 14-strong back line panel where Ian Whitten is included despite having suffered a dead leg in the first half against Ospreys, as a result of which Paddy Wallace entered the fray as a centre replacement.

Adam D’Arcy is likely to continue at full-back after his solid Magners League debut, with Niall O’Connor the probable outside-half.

If O’Connor gets the nod, it will be very interesting to see who is named on the bench.

Ian Humphreys, of course, is in the frame, but so too is Wallace who currently is Ireland’s third choice number 10 and with the 2011 World Cup drawing ever closer, Declan Kidney and his management team will want to see him play in that position.

McLaughlin, who must target matches carefully throughout this campaign in order to maximise his resources in compliance with Ireland’s player management needs, is far too canny to reveal whether or not this weekend’s fixture is one of those around which he has drawn a circle.

One suspects it is though, despite any protestations to the contrary.

“It’s going to be very similar to the Ospreys game last Friday night. I expect a really tough, tough battle. It’s probably the closest thing to a war we’ll go into this season,” he forecast.

“Aironi will be an exceptionally hard nut to crack. This is their first ever home game in the Magners League so they’re going to be extremely passionate about that and the crowd will be fired up and right behind them.

“It’s going to be very difficult, but we’ve got to realise that we now have to build on what we did last week.

“There is no point in us going over there and lying down. We have got to show the same fire and passion away from Ravenhill as we did when we played there on Friday night. It’s about matching and beating your opponents’ physicality — that’s the way rugby is.

“It’s a long time since Ulster won their first two Magners League matches of the season and that is what we will be trying to do.

“But it’s going to be tough — extremely tough.”

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