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Payne returns as Olding and Stockdale provide badly needed spark for Ulster away to Zebre

The northern province never looked in danger of losing in Italy, but were unable to burn off the league’s bottom side.

Image: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

Zebre 17

Ulster 40

THE ASSURANCE OF Ruan Pienaar and the energy of Jacob Stockdale and Stuart Olding ensured Ulster ultimately took a bonus point Pro12 win away from Parma this afternoon.

The young backs scored tries to build on first-half efforts from Chris Henry and Pienaar to reduce gap between the northern province and fourth-placed Scarlets to five points, with a game in hand still to come.

Les Kiss’ men enjoyed the smoothest of starts, easily setting themselves in try-scoring positions. A dominant maul sent Henry over for the opening score six minutes in. And, after nailing the first touchline conversion, Ruan Pienaar soon made the score 14 – 0. The Springbok had the easy task of finishing after slick hands from Stockdale and a left-wing raid from Charles Piutau carved the Italians open.

Watching from the outside in, it seemed like time for cruise control, but once the boys in blue took the foot off the pedal, scrum-half Guglielmo Palazzani managed to sneak his way onto the try-line and converted to halve the deficit.

By the interval, Ulster’s  advantage was down to just 10 – 14 after Palazzani slotted a penalty as reward for the home side’s dominance in the game’s second quarter.

Chris Henry with Guglielmo Palazzani Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

Though Ulster’s back-line was brimming with talent, there were few structured opportunities for Tommy Bowe, Stuart Olding and Luke Marshall to make their mark in attack. Olding came closest on the stroke of half-time, handing off a defender in an attempt to wriggle to the try-line, but as he turned he was hit square by a strong cover tackle and driven back.

Five minutes after the break, Olding would not be denied. A set-play saw the centre crash onto a pop pass from Bowe and he bumped off a tackle on his way over the line.

Zebre were flagging, and Stockdale punished the fatigue by dotting down a 51st minute bonus point try, taking Pienaar’s pass to power through the would-be tackle of Johan Meyer from five metres out.

Unfortunately, the pattern of a strong start followed by malaise seen in the first-half threatened to materialise in the second period too. However, Zebre were unable to build on the try from Mattia Bellini.

With Jared Payne playing the last 20 minutes on his return from injury, Ulster instead finished on the up with Robbie Diack and debutant David Busby completed the scoring, the latter off a grubber kick from Payne.

Scorers

Zebre

Tries: G Palazzani, M Bellini

Conversion: G Palazzani (2/2)

Penalty: G Palazzani (1/1)

Ulster

Tries: C Henry, R Pienaar, S Olding, J Stockdale, R Diack, D Busby

Conversions: R Pienaar (5/6)

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Sean Farrell

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