Ulster had to battle a well drilled Zebre defence plus the rainy and windswept conditions in their Pro14 victory at Kingspan Stadium.
The 22-7 win made it four wins out of five for Ulster in Conference A but as with last week against Cardiff, Dan McFarland’s side laboured to earn the four points.
Ulster made the worst possible start conceding a try after two minutes, the home side misjudged the kick-off and were on the back foot.
The Italians worked the ball patiently through a number of phases before scrum half Guglielmo Palazzani threw an audacious offload to winger Mattia Bellini and he smashed through a weak Marcell Coetzee tackle to go under the posts with out half Carlo Canna converting.
Zebre nearly had a second try on 11 minutes when hooker Oliviero Fabiani charged Dave Shanahan’s attempted clearance down but the ball rolled over the dead ball line before the Italian could apply downward pressure.
Ulster opened their account on 21 minutes, Coetzee offloaded out of a tackle to put Luke Marshall clear, the centre carried into the 22 and drew the last defender before popping the ball to Shanahan to go over with out half Bill Johnston converting.
Ulster took the lead on 32 minutes with a Johnston penalty after Zebre were caught offside in midfield and that was enough to give the home side a 10-7 half-time lead.
Ulster skipper Rob Herring had a try chalked off on 47 minutes. Ulster reclaimed a lineout and Herring surged through a gap to score but the officials adjudged the space was created by lock Kieran Treadwell illegally blocking Maxime Mbanda.
Ulster did get their second try five minutes later when from a lineout the pack set up a driving maul and as it hurtled towards the line, Zebre lock Ian Nagle attempted to pull it down. The referee awarded a penalty try and yellow-carded the Irishman.
Ulster’s dominant scrum earned them a penalty, they went to the corner from the lineout and Herring and Curtis went for the line before Reidy was stopped short, but the home side were awarded another penalty.
Again they went for the corner and Zebre flanker Giovanni Licata was sin-binned for repeated infringements.
Ulster opted for a scrum from the resulting penalty, Angus Curtis came out with a crash ball in midfield and punched a hole in the visitor’s defence. Johnston spotted space on the wing and put in a perfectly weighted kick for Rob Lyttle to collect and slide over but the out half failed to convert from a tight angle.
Ulster had a chance to wrap up the bonus point when they earned a penalty and went to the corner, the home side won the ball but the Zebre defence were able to sack the maul and drive the home pack into touch.
Lyttle had a chance in the last minute to get the fourth try as he shot out of the defensive line but as he went for the intercept he knocked on.
Ulster team: W Addison, L Ludik, M Faddes, L Marshall, R Lyttle, BJohnston, D Shanahan, J McGrath, R Herring, T O’Toole, A O’Connor, K Treadwell, M Rea, N Timoney, M Coetzee
Replacements: A McBurney for Herring 72 mins, K McCall for McGrath 72 mins, R Kane for O’Toole 72 mins, S Carter for O’Connor, S Reidy for Timoney 51 mins, J Cooney for Shanahan 72 mins, A Curtis for Ludik 51 mins, C Gilroy for Addison 16 mins
Zebre team: J Laloifi, C Walker, J Elliott, T Boni, M Bellini, C Canna, G Palazzani, D Fischetti, O Fabiani, G Zilocchi, I Nagle, G Biagi, M Mbandà, G Licata, R Giammarioli,
Replacements: L Bigi for Fabiani 49 mins, D Rimpelli for Fischetti 64 mins, E Bello for Zilocchi 59 min, L Krumov for Biagi 51 mins, A Tauyavuca, R Tenga, E Lucchin for Boni 54 mins, J Renton for Laloifi 60 mins
Ref: S Grove-White (SRU)