Ulster were intent on playing with width and it nearly paid off when a clever chip kick by Humphreys almost created an opportunity for Nevin Spence, but the centre was bundled into touch by covering defenders.
Ulster continued to look for openings and at the mid-way point of the first half, Ian Whitten scored the game's first try after great phase play by his team mates. Humphreys cut an excellent angle off Adam D'Arcy to bring play towards the opposition '22', Pedrie Wannenburg drove the ball on further, before Willie Faloon's pass found Whitten in the corner.
Indiscipline by Ulster allowed Naas Olivier to reduce the deficit to 3-5, but Ulster wasted no time in retorting with a second try. Humphreys was again influential in the build-up, first kicking, and then supplying a delightful flat pass, in a move that resulted in Dan Tuohy scoring in the corner. Humphreys landed a magnificent touchline conversion to extend the lead to 3-12.
Aironi fought back in the 10 minutes approaching half time, with inside centre Gabriel Pizarro to the fore with some strong ball carries. Number 8 Nick Williams forced his way over beside the posts after a strong scrum from the Italians. Naas Olivier had no problems in converting to cut the lead to just 2 points again.
The South African then hit a long range penalty to give his side a 13-12 lead three minutes before the break. Not to be outdone, Humphreys landed one of his own rom almost 60 metres to put Ulster ahead at the break.
Half time: 13-15
Ulster's indiscipline continued at the start of the second half, as Olivier converted a penalty after Ulster were penalised at scrum time.
Nigel Brady, Declan Fitzpatrick and Lewis Stevenson were introduced shortly after as the heat started to take its toll.
A piece of magic from Paul Marshall who ran 60 metres, brought play deep into Aironi's half, and after a couple of phases, Craig Gilroy crossed the whitewash for his side's third try. Humphreys' conversion was initially adjudicated unsuccessful but the referee over-ruled his assistants and the two points were added to bring the score to Aironi 16 Ulster 22.
Humphreys saw a penalty attempt sail wide of the posts but made amends with another long range strike to extend the lead to nine points. Ulster continued to press for a bonus point but handling errors and poor decision making contrived to frustrate Brian McLaughlin.
Jerry Cronin was sin binned with 7 minutes left on the clock after for a ruck infringement and Naas Olivier took advantage by landing the resultant penalty. This brought Aironi right back into the game, with the score reading 19-15. With Cronin off the pitch, 21 year old Adam Macklin came on to win his first senior cap and held up well in the scrum.
Ulster turned down the chance to kick a late penalty and ran the ball in search of that elusive fourth try, but ultimately another handing error cost them.
Ulster will nonetheless be happy to have opened their RaboDirect PRO12 account with two victories in their first two games.
Academy coach Jonny Bell, who assists as defence coach with the senior team, was happy with the result: "We are delighted to come away with the win, but we're a little bit disappointed not to capitalise on the opportunities that we had to get the bonus point at the end.
"It's obviously very draining playing in that kind of heat and with the attritional nature of the Aironi team, the contact point is going to crucial. Today, that battle at the gain line was energy sapping. Some decisions were made at certain stages that put us under a bit of pressure but fair play to the boys, they worked very, very hard today in difficult conditions and we got that win."
The scrums looked to be one area of concern for the Ulster coaches but Bell is not panicking yet. "The boys worked incredibly hard against a very big Aironi front row. Bringing on the likes of Declan Fitzpatrick, an experienced campaigner, solidified things. It's an area, like all, that we have to continue to keep pressing to get better and better at," said Bell.
He continued: "We are creating opportunities but at this level of rugby it' not just creating these opportunities, its finishing them and the boys will be disappointed with that element, that we didn't take our chances. We scored some lovely tries and we created a lot of space today."
"We had a little bit of a bad patch in the middle of the game where we didn't really control possession and we didn't get ourselves in territorial areas that allowed us to apply pressure. But we finished strongly, our fitness and strength levels are good and we are very positive moving forward are looking forward to Cardiff at home next weekend."
Bell concluded: "We set ourselves very high standards and yes there will be an element of disappointment coming away without a bonus point when you put yourself in those positions but we've got an on-form Cardiff team coming to Ravenhill next week and we are looking forward to it."
|Aironi Rugby Score Card|
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|