Paddy Jackson kicks Ulster to Zebres triumph
Paddy Jackson's 14 points from the kicking tee proved decisive as Ulster ground out a hard-earned 19-11 RaboDirect Pro 12 victory at Zebre.
Ireland fly-half Jackson's solid goal-kicking guided Ulster past the gritty Italian franchise in Parma, to their sixth win in seven league matches.
Centre Darren Cave crossed for Ulster's only try after 26 minutes.
Jackson converted and slotted four penalties, to trump Zebre centre Gonzalo Garcia's six-point haul with the boot.
Home full-back Guglielmo Palazzani crossed for Zebre's only try of the clash.
So that left Ulster to wear their hosts down, and force them into conceding the penalties for 21-year-old Jackson to convert.
Attack-minded Jackson also had a hand in Ulster's try, his smart reverse pass sending wing Craig Gilroy into space.
Five-cap Ireland centre Cave cut a close line off Gilroy to complete the move.
Ulster led 13-6 at half time, with Jackson adding his second two penalties after the interval.
Palazzani claimed his try late on as the Italians finally breached Ulster's stingy defence.
Mark Anscombe's Ulster side may have craved more try-scoring opportunities, but will be pleased to leave with victory.
Italy forwards Mauro Bergamasco and Marco Bortolami led the Zebre charge, fighting hard to incite their team-mates to crack Ulster's defence open in the second half.
But the home side were unable to find the creativity required to outfox their Northern Irish visitors.
Jackson continued his strong start to the season, leading the Ulster line with confidence.
New Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt was impressed with Jackson's progress during the autumn international series.
Jackson controlled Ireland's 40-9 victory over Samoa with ease.
But he dropped out of the match squad for the Australia and New Zealand defeats, with Johnny Sexton fit again and Ian Madigan considered more versatile on the bench.
Ireland boss Schmidt wants his young stars playing regularly and controlling matches.
So the former New Zealand schoolteacher will be quietly contented to see Jackson still making solid progress, especially with Madigan battling for chances at Leinster with Kiwi Jimmy Gopperth.