Two starting XV changes implemented by Brian McLaughlin saw Paddy McAllister replace Tom Court at prop, and Ruan Pienaar return to the line-up after a run-out as replacement last week against the Scarlets. Notable on the bench, meanwhile, was veteran Springbok Stefan Terblanche, drafted in to provide cover at full-back in the long-term absence of Jared Payne.
With the Italians penalised as early as the second minute for collapsing the scrum, Ulster eschewed the chance to notch up three easy points, as Pienaar elected instead to kick for touch. The opportunity soon went begging as Ulster infringed in their turn, but the episode served as an early statement of the hosts' intent.
Five minutes later Ulster came closer still to the try-line as Ian Humphreys tapped a low kick onwards for Nevin Spence to chase inside the Aironi '22', and although the centre failed to collect, it was another warning sign for the visitors.
When the inevitable try came, on 16 minutes, it was thanks to a more patient, measured approach from Ulster after good yard-stealing work from Adam D'Arcy in the midfield. Ulster kept the ball in hand across the park from right to left, eventually picking out Ferris on the left flank. The Number 6, enjoying a prolific patch after his two scores last Friday against the Scarlets, used his all brawn to power over in the corner, and Humphreys completed the move with a well-struck conversion to make the score Ulster 7 Aironi 0.
Tito Tibaldi quickly recuperated three points with a 22nd-minute penalty, and could have doubled his tally four minutes later, but his kick from distance on the left wing lacked the requisite bend and fell wide of the left-hand upright. Humphreys then missed a penalty of his own on the half-hour mark when it looked for all the world to be arching just inside the posts, before Tibaldi once more failed to hit the target moments later.
With Aironi full-back Giulio Toniolatti yellow-carded on 36 minutes for illegally interfering with the ball as Pienaar attempted to play it, Ulster had the extra incentive they needed, and orchestrated several impressive phases before Darren Cave found the killer pass for D'Arcy to ground in the same spot as Ferris had 25 minutes previously. An errant Humphreys conversion attempt brought the half to a close, but Ulster ran off at the break with the job already half-done.
Half-Time Score Ulster 12 Aironi 3
Some trademark penetration from Ferris in the second minute after the restart proved too much for the Italian defence to deal with, and quick Ulster recycling from the breakdown culminated in the final killer pass finding Andrew Trimble on the right wing. The Ballymena man rode a handful of tackles to touch down acrobatically in the corner, and although Humphreys' indifferent kicking record continued with his conversion attempt, his side were comfortable at Ulster 17 Aironi 3.
With Trimble, McAllister and Pienaar making way for Terblanche, Court and Paul Marshall respectively on 50 minutes, and Paddy Jackson soon joining the fray in place of an injured Spence, Ulster's reshuffled lineup continued in the same vein as the starters had, and the ever-alert Marshall once again made an immediate impact, tapping a quick penalty to himself and darting over the line for the bonus point-securing fourth try on 56 minutes. Humphreys' conversion was inch-perfect this time, and his side led at Ulster 24 Aironi 3.
Although the match was already over as a contest, Ulster continued to press, and a smartly-worked chain of passes across the line on 70 minutes allowed Jackson to sneak over a fully-deserved try number five, which Humphreys converted to raise the tally to 31 points.
Aironi registered a consolation try through Tomasso D'Apice with two minutes remaining, but this did little to dampen Ulster spirits, and the emphatic nature of the victory must see McLaughlin's charges go into next Saturday's return fixture in Viadana full of confidence.
Full-Time Score Ulster 31 Aironi 10
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
|Aironi Rugby Score Card|