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Herring grabs hat-trick as 8-try Ulster maul Zebre

Rob Lyttle took on kicking duties and added a try of his own.

Ulster 54

Zebre 7

IF THIS IS to prove a reflection of how tomorrow’s Irish side will do against Italian opposition then Joe Schmidt will have been watching on in delight.

Ulster continued to enhance their growing reputation as a team with a forward pack to be reckoned with, hooker Rob Herring claiming the rarest of hat-tricks, all from mauls within the first half an hour, as the province romped to a 54-7 win over Zebre at Kingspan Stadium.

The week before, Zebre had terrorised Leinster’s front row in Parma, but there was to be no such concern for Ulster this time around. The front row established the platform early with a huge scrum win against the head and once the maul got going it was never stopped by the visitors.

Rob Lyttle also got in on the try scoring – as well as adding 17 points off the boot – while scores via a penalty try, Louis Ludik, Robert Baloucoune and Peter Nelson completed the rout that Ulster so desperately wanted.

Rob Lyttle scores a try Rob Lyttle runs in a try. Source: Matt Mackey/INPHO

With the pressure firmly on Ulster to keep pace with the rest of Conference B in the Guinness PRO14, with Benetton picking up the maximum haul against the Dragons earlier in the day and Edinburgh in action against the Cardiff Blues at the same time.

If Herring was disappointed with missing out on selection for Ireland’s Six Nations squad, then this is the kind of performance that will make Schmidt sit up and take notice again. While it may be the hat-trick of maul tries that grabs the headlines, he was part of a scrum that dominated all game.

When he piloted the first maul over, after just 16 minutes, there was an air of inevitability about it given how the lineout drive has gone for Ulster in recent weeks. When another followed its way over the line five minutes later, there was little doubt as to what way the game was heading.

It was helped, admittedly, by Zebre flanker James Brown being sent to the sin-bin for taking down the first maul of the game as it motored towards the line, but that was just as much proof of how Ulster would dominate going forward.

Yet all of a sudden the momentum shifted abruptly as Ulster saw a man of their own handed a yellow card, Louis Ludik the guilty party for quite clearly tipping a pass from Carlo Canna forward when the visitors had a large overlap on the outside, leading referee Mike Adamson to go under the sticks for the penalty try as well.

But being down a man did nothing to stop the offensive juggernaut that was the Ulster pack and they continued their maul pressure as Herring completed his hat-trick on the half-hour mark, the hooker scoring a carbon copy of his first two tries.

Another player needing to make his mark – for different reasons – was winger Lyttle, who had recovered from a shaky start to convert Herring’s latter two scores, but he put his stamp on the game a little more forcefully with the bonus point try on the stroke of half-time.

Stuart McCloskey in action with James Brown Stuart McCloskey slips a tackle. Source: Matt Mackey/INPHO

The talented winger, plagued by injury problems, was determined to make a statement and he did so with the final play of the half, backing his pace down the wing and beating Paula Balekana to the try line while just evading the touchline at the same time.

Five minutes into the second half, this time the ref denied Herring a fourth score from a maul, although he didn’t deny the score altogether. With the pack, aided by no shortage of backs, tearing towards the line at a rate of knots before collapsing, the penalty try was nothing short of a formality.

By the time Louis Ludik crossed for the sixth five minutes later, the full-back coming into the line at pace and searing through the gap to barge through two prospective tacklers and get the ball down, Ulster had already begun strategically resting players by hauling Eric O’Sullivan, Marty Moore and Stuart McCloskey adrift.

Robert Balouciune  in action with Paula Balekana Robert Baloucoune runs at Balekana. Source: Matt Mackey/INPHO

Lyttle nearly had another when he chipped over the top of Balekana and raced through in pursuit of his own kick, only for Francois Brummer to recover and put the ball down over his own try line, the scrum won the penalty and once again referee Adamson went for the pocket when Zebre’s replacement tighthead Roberto Tenga hauled down the maul from the resulting lineout.

While it was rapid winger Baloucoune who added to his try-scoring tally for the seventh immediately from the next lineout, it was McCloskey’s replacement, and fellow Academy prospect, James Hume who created it. The centre took the ball flat, instinctively flipped the ball on to avoid contact and Baloucoune had the easy task of racing over in the corner.

Unsurprisingly, as the game wore down, the energy levels dropped on both sides and it would be a try eight minutes from time that wrapped up the game nicely for Ulster.

Peter Nelson, named at fly-half somewhat out of the blue, was shifted to full-back after Ludik was forced off and it was from there that he got the game-ending try, coming into the line and using his strength to hold off two tackles and force his way over.

Brute efficiency from Ulster, with the result to match.
Scorers
Ulster

Tries: Herring (3), Lyttle, Penalty, Ludik, Baloucoune, Nelson

Cons: Lyttle (6), Penalty

Zebre

Try: Penalty
Con: Penalty
ULSTER: Louis Ludik (Johnny McPhillips 62); Robert Baloucoune, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey (James Hume 46), Rob Lyttle; Peter Nelson, David Shanahan (Jonny Stewart 51); Eric O’Sullivan (Andrew Warwick 50), Rob Herring (John Andrew 65), Marty Moore (Ross Kane 50); Alan O’Connor (Ian Nagle 51), Kieran Treadwell; Clive Ross, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney (Greg Jones 51).
Yellow card: Louis Ludik (25′)
 
ZEBRE: Francois Brummer (Maicol Azzolini 64); Paula Balekana, Giulio Bisegni, Nicolas de Battista (Giovanbattista Venditti 69), James Elliott; Carlo Canna, Joshua Renton (Riccardo Raffaele 69); Daniele Rimpelli (Danilo Fischetti 50), Oliviero Fabiani (Luhandre Luus 50), Eduardo Bello (Roberto Tenga 28); Leonard Krumov (Massimo Ceciliani 75), George Biagi (Alessandro Mordacci 62); Apisai Tauyavuca, James Brown, Jacopo Bianchi.

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