ZEBRE 17 ULSTER 40
Ulster got the first part of an Italian Job treble completed with a bonus point win in Parma to keep in touch with the Guiness PRO12’s top four.
And while it was job done with six tries in total, the performance was shabby at times from the Ulster side.
They will play Zebre again in a fortnight with the other Italian side, Benetton Treviso visiting Belfast on Friday night - a minimum of 10 points will be required again, but Ulster will want to improve on their delivery.
The opening score came after six minutes. A penalty to touch was back up from the lineout and driving maul with openside Chris Henry getting the touchdown in the corner. Scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar landed the extras from the touchline for a 7-0 lead.
Another opportunity presented itself again six minutes later, a penalty to touch, but Ulster fluffed the lineout.
But from a breathtaking counter attack Tommy Bowe and Jacob Stockdale, in at fullback this week, sent winger Charles Piutau away on the left. He made huge yards before popping the pass into the supporting Pienaar.
The scrumhalf grounded under the posts and goaled his try to double the lead after 14 minutes.
Within two minutes Ulster were caught napping and Zebre scrumhalf, Guglielmo Palazzani converted his own try, Pienaar then putting the restart out on the full and the Italians took energy from it and put the visitors under the cosh.
Ulster weathered that, but their own game became erratic and there were too many mistakes and over plays.
Zebre were still a threat and they scored a penalty through Palazzani to make it 10-14 four minutes from the break.
Ulster then butchered a number of chances close to the home line and only for several Zebre mistakes earlier, were fortunate to go in at the break leading by four points.
Stuart Olding forced his way over for a try five minutes into the second half and Pienaar converted.
On 52 minutes Ulster got their fourth try to secure the bonus point when good pressure was finally finished off by a try from Stockdale. Pienaar made if four from four off the tee and the lead was 28-10.
But just like in the first quarter, Ulster returned inside their shell and Zebre scored a lovely worked try through Mattia Bellini with Palazzani convering from wide out to keep the Italians in the contest. Pienaar’s restart failed to go 10 metres and the pressure remained on the visitors.
Ulster did score a fine try with some nice footwork from Piutau and Robbie Diack the benefactor. Pienaar made it five from five with the conversion.
Busby, who had replaced Piutau, five minutes from the end, marked his senior debut with a try two minutes from the end - Pienaar unable to convert from the touchline on this occasion.
Zebre: D Berryman; M Bellini, T Boni, M Pratichetti, L Greeff; S Bordoli, G Palazzani; B Postiglioni, O Fabiana, G Roan; G Koegelenberg, V Bernabo (capt); D Bergamin, J Meyer, F Ruzza.
Replacements: S Tobias, A De Marchi, B Le Roux, J Furno, D Fragnito, C Engelbrecht, T Castello, S Balocchi.
Ulster: J Stockdale; T Bowe, L Marshall, S Olding, C Piutau; P Nelson, R Pienaar; A Warwick, R Herring (capt), W Herbst; R Diack, A O’Connor; C Ross, C Henry, M Coetzee
Replacements: J Andrew, C Black, R Lutton, K Treadwell, S Reidy, P Marshall, J Payne, D Busby.