ULSTER SECURED A 19-11 win in their RaboDirect Pro12 encounter with Zebre at the Stadio XXV Aprile in Parma this afternoon.
There were some strong individual performances from the likes of Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson and Andrew Trimble, while Ulster had passages of strong attacking play. Overall, Mark Anscombe will be happy with a solid win that sees his men up to third in the table for a few hours at least.
The home team served notice of their intent in the 6th minute, when former Munster prop Dave Ryan made a clean line-break following a smart counter-attack by fullback Guglielmo Palazzani. The Cork native threw a nicely-weighted pass inside but Ulster recovered to turn the ball over.
A wheeled scrum against Ulster was followed by a penalty decision against Mark Anscombe’s side, allowing centre Gonzalo Garcia to kick Zebre into a 3-0 lead. Paddy Jackson got Ulster back on level terms almost immediately with a penalty of his own after Zebre held on after the tackle.
With Kiwi scrum-half Brendon Leonard orchestrating their attacking play, the home side worked their way down field to win a second penalty for Garcia, who obliged to make it 6-3 in the 17th minute. Ulster finally enjoyed a spell of possession midway through the half, though, with some classy handling from John Afoa standing out.
Mike McComish’s loose pass ended that particular passage, but Ulster were encouraged and when they came back powerfully on the attack, Zebre conceded a cynical penalty under their posts. Jackson had no trouble in drawing his side level on the 24 minute mark.
With Paul Marshall’s passing now coaxing players onto the ball, Ulster began to motor and Darren Cave finished a superb backs try in the 27th minute after sharp handling and running lines by Jackson and Craig Gilroy, who gave the scoring pass. Jackson converted to put Anscombe’s side 13-6 up.
YouTube credit: RaboDirect PRO12
Zebre responded by coming back aggressively in the collisions and Ulster haven’t been able to build on their first try. Referee Andrew McMenemy bizarrely had to use a mobile phone to talk to his TMO just before the break, but Mauro Bergamasco escaped sanction for foul play and Ulster led 13-6.
Ulster came close to getting the second half off to a perfect stat when Gilroy burst away, but an excellent Zebre covering tackle meant the Ireland international couldn’t find his supporting teammates. Jackson slotted a penalty shortly after that to put Ulster 16-6 in front though.
Luke Marshall was the next to threaten when he scythed through the Zebre defence but, again, he couldn’t find a supporting player to finish the move. With the Italians having strayed offside, Jackson punished them again for a 19-9 lead in the 51st minute.
The introduction of Luciano Orquera sparked Zebre back into life and they deservedly crossed the whitewash through Palazzani in the 54th minute. While Orquera missed the conversion, he went on to pick up the tempo for Zebre, bringing the likes of Bergamasco and Marco Bortolami increasingly into the game.
YouTube credit: RaboDirect PRO12
Having weathered Zebre’s extended purple patch, Jackson had a straightforward chance to extend Ulster’s lead in the 68th minute, but pulled his attempt to the left of the uprights. That encouraged the home side again and Bergamasco produced a line break after some weak Ulster tackling, although Zebre were unable to convert it into points.
McMenemy once again went for the mobile phone in order to discuss whether or not Ulster had made a dangerous tackle with five minutes left on the clock, and after an interminable wait, awarded a penalty to Zebre.
However, the home side failed to take advantage of a final attacking chance and Ulster saw out the closing minute to ensure a 19-11 win. It was far from perfect for Anscombe’s men, but this was a case of getting the job done against a Zebre side that threatened in short spurts.
Ulster move up to third in the Pro12 table for a couple of hours at least, but a win for Leinster later would move them down to fourth.
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