©INPHO/Francesca Soli

Pro12: Ulster leave it late, but keep up perfect start to season

A late Niall O’Connor conversion sealed the 25-27 win in Parma.

A LATE PENALTY try ensured Ulster maintained their 100 percent record under Mark Anscombe, as it decided a frenetic 25-27 win over Zebre in the RaboDirect Pro12.

Ulster come away with four points which increased their lead at the top of the table to six points, but bottom-club Zebre took two bonus points from the loss. One for scoring four tries.

In a fixture re-arranged after the tragic death of Nevin Spence in September, three early Niall O’Connor penalties had cancelled out Tito Tebaldi’s unconverted 11th minute try and Ulster’s dominance at the breakdown would be enough to give them a slender 8-9 lead at the half way stage.

Daniel Halangahu’s restarts though were proving a constant menace for the inexperienced Ulster side and the Australian would add a try to his personal tally. Again though, the score went unconverted, a missed opportunity that would prove costly.

Dries van Schalkwyk scored the first of his two tries on 54 minutes, but Ulster’s most experienced department (midfield) combined when Jared Payne provided a beautiful pass for Paddy Wallace to score on the right wing with 20 minutes remaining. Another conversion went begging, Ulster trailed by one again.

Ulster fans pay tribute at Stadio XXV Aprile. ©INPHO/Francesca Soli

Ulster’s pack continued to dominate the breakdown and the pressure told after 62 minutes when Matteo Pratichetti was yellow carded for not rolling away. O’Connor nailed the resulting penalty, but more was to come from the hosts.

Another excellent re-start piled the pressure on the black-shirted visitors and young scrum half Michael Heaney (the province’s third-choice with Ruan Pienaar and Paul Marshall on international duty) was forced to carry over his own try-line.

The hosts’ scrum was back-peddling, but number eight van Schalkwyk still managed to pick from the base and breeze over the line from five metres. Halangahu hit his only conversion of the day to stretch the new franchise’s lead to 25-20 with 15 minutes on the clock.

The tank

However, the visiting pack had proved with that scrum they still had plenty in the tank. They regrouped and upped the intensity, determined not to let their 10th game of the season be the first the province would not win.

A 75th minute scrum five metres from the Zebre line was always going to prove a golden opportunity; and the front row of John Afoa, Tom Court and Rob Herring ensured the backs would not be needed as Scottish referee Neil Paterson awarded the penalty try.

O’Connor added the crucial extra two points from directly in front of the posts and Ulster, even without a host of internationals and captain Johann Muller, record their 10th win from the 10 games since losing the Heineken Cup final in May.

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