Ulster failed to find the performance of the past two weeks in the Heineken Cup on their return to the RaboDirect PRO12 with a lacklustre display in a 13-6 win over Zebre at Ravenhill Stadium on Friday night.
Conditions were appalling with a gale blowing down the pitch and it was never going to be a flowing game of rugby in front of a near capacity 14,000 pre Christmas crowd.
However, there was one flash of brilliance to light up an otherwise dull occasion from centre Jared Payne just before the end of the first half. His try proved the difference in the end of a scrappy contest.
Ulster head coach, Mark Anscombe, accepted that it was a poor performance, but they had got the win.
“We will take it and bounce on. There is no doubt we dodged a bullet there tonight.
Traditionally it is difficult to get up and perform again after the Heineken Cup and once again they (Zebre) did not make it easy for us.”
Ulster had made nine changes for the game as they rotated the squad – some of that enforced by IRFU player management – coming off the back of two huge physical contests against Treviso in the Heineken Cup.
But Anscombe said: “We have to be able to lift the bar after coming off the big Heineken games. Even when you make changes we have enough experience there to demand a bit more of ourselves.
“A few of us have to rest players for the National body and bouncing back after Heineken it does take its toll as Leinster have found out tonight, “ added Anscombe, reacting after being told Leinster had lost 11-6 to Edinburgh which enable Ulster to move into second place behind Munster who play tonight.
The most pleasing factor for Anscombe was the defence.
“We really dug in there at times and we have now gone 267 minutes without a try being scored against us,” he said.
The last try conceded was to Zebre four weeks ago when Ulster scrapped a 19-11 win in Parma in the corresponding league fixture.