Ulster showed their hand early, with Pienaar kicking for touch from a second-minute penalty after good yards-stealing by the powerful Nevin Spence. The line-out ran like clockwork, and the resulting charge saw Court touch down thirty seconds later. Pienaar's conversion swerved slightly too late and rebounded off the left upright, but Ulster had a sound early lead at Ulster 5 Aironi 0.
By eight minutes Craig Gilroy had doubled the lead, keeping up his incredible record of a try for every appearance with his seventh score of the season. The prolific winger tore down the left wing to ground the try as the culmination of a well-orchestrated move, which had started moments earlier on the other flank thanks to an intelligent kick-and-chase by Andrew Trimble. This time Pienaar's conversion was true, and the lead sat at Ulster 12 Aironi 0.
The Springbok extended the margin on 14 minutes with a penalty from in front of the posts, but, as the Italians continued to infringe, he opted for touch for a second time three minutes later. Ulster were fortunate to hold on to the line-out ball, but repositioned themselves well and were only denied try number three when Wallace's bullet final pass proved too hot to handle for Gilroy, who knocked on.
On 25 minutes Aironi got into the Ulster half with the ball for the first time, but soon relinquished possession and territory with a further addition to their penalty count. To their credit, however, the Italians' heads did not drop, and they got themselves on the scoresheet on the half-hour mark through a Riccardo Bocchino penalty.
Then, Ulster drew another penalty after alert work from Adam D'Arcy, who hacked on a loose ball in midfield to pick it up himself on the other side of several static Aironi players; but again Pienaar's aim was marginally off-target. Worse was to come a minute before the break when the visitors' full-back James Marshall crept through a crevice in the Ulster defence to land a try. Bocchino's conversion got the Italians into double figures at Ulster 15 Aironi 10, and left Ulster to trot off for half-time rueing their inability to put the match to bed after such a dynamic start to the game.
Half-Time Score Ulster 15 Aironi 10
Ulster made an error-strewn opening to the second half, dropping several early balls, and were only spared more blushes on 42 minutes thanks to a desperate tap tackle by Pienaar on Danwel Demas, who had intercepted a loose pass and looked for all the world to have outstripped the chasing Ulster pack. The Springbok showed impressive speed and footballing nous to halt the angular winger, and effectively prevent a match-turning score.
Aironi came close again on 56 minutes with a rolling charge from a lineout, but an unidentifiable white-clad body managed to get underneath the ball somewhere inside the melee. However the Italians sustained their pressure admirably and, although Johann Muller saw yellow for some illicit defending, Ulster held on and eventually cleared the danger just before the hour mark. The succession of close shaves seemed to spur Ulster into action, and with some rearrangement among the backs with Luke Marshall replacing his namesake Paul, Pienaar moving to scrum-half and Wallace to out-half, they began once again to resemble the team which had started the match.
A Pienaar penalty on 63 minutes put Ulster's lead over and above a converted try once again, but with two more tries in ten minutes required for what could prove to be a vital bonus point, they still had their work cut out. Replacement prop Declan Fitzpatrick did his best to oblige with try number three on 72 minutes after some fierce rucking by Ulster deep in the Aironi '22', although an errant Pienaar conversion meant that the score sat at Ulster 23 Aironi 10.
With the final minutes being played out in the wrong half as far as Ulster were concerned, Brian McLaughlin's men eventually wrenched possession back with mere seconds remaining, but their best efforts were quashed - and the hopes of the bonus evaporated - with an unfortunate knock-on as the backs surged into the Aironi half for their final fling. Four Magners League points were picked up rather than five, then, but the win nonetheless saw Ulster move up to fifth place - just one shy of a play-off place.
Full-Time Score Ulster 23 Aironi 10
(15 - 9) A D'Arcy; A Trimble, N Spence, P Wallace, C Gilroy; R Pienaar, P Marshall
(1 - 8) P McAllister, N Brady, T Court, J Muller (c), T Barker, C Henry, W Faloon, P Wannenburg
Replacements (16 - 23) A Kyriacou, D Fitzpatrick, J Cronin, N McComb, R Diack, L Marshall, S Danielli, T Seymour
(15 - 9) J Marshall; K Robertson, G Pavan, M Pratichetti, D Demas; R Bocchino, P Travagli
(1 - 8) Al De Marchi, R Santamaria, L U Gamboa, J Furno, M Bortolami (c), J Sole, G Krause, N Williams
Replacements (16 - 23) T D'Apice, L Redolfini, An De Marchi, G F Biagi, N Cattina, T Tibaldi, G Pizarro, G Rubini
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
|Aironi Rugby Score Card|