Ulster limp to bonus-point win over Zebre in Belfast
Ulster 32 Zebre 0
Ulster limped their way to bonus-point win over Zebre in a disappointing display at the Kingspan Stadium where there was little to excite a subdued crowd.
Not for the first time this season Ulster lacked accuracy and patience, and they left matters very late to grab that bonus point, which prove vital come the end of the season.
It took man of the match Nick Williams to fire them up initially with two first-half tries; Peter Browne grabbed the third and replacement scrum-half Paul Marshall (pictured) got that crucial fourth try two minutes from the end.
Paddy Jackson chipped in with three conversions and couple of penalties as Ulster remain in fourth place.
Two long-range penalties in the opening 10 minutes by Jackson set the platform for Ulster, who had taken control of the game from the start.
Looking to make up for a series of lacklustre performances in the past couple of months which had seen them slip from top to fourth, Ulster reinforced their solid start within a try in the 11th minute when Williams crashed over following a big line-out drive.
With Jackson converting Ulster were 13 points to the good in as many minutes.
Could Ulster finally show that mean streak that has been missing all season and press on? Initially no, although they did have a Rory Scholes try deleted from the scoresheet due to crossing in midfield.
However, wrecking-ball Williams did get Ulster rolling again on the half-hour with a pick-up and drive from No 8 to grab his second try of the night, with Jackson again adding the extras.
There was not a lot to shout about in the run-up to half-time, as Zebre finally found the wherewithal to spend a little time in Ulster’s red zone but were unable to register a score.
Ulster had another try strangely disallowed in the 50th minute which denied Williams his hat-trick. In a broken-down move the ball appear to bounce backwards, but following TMO intervention a knock-on was given before Williams touched down beside the posts.
Ulster finally broke through again in the 62nd minute with the excellent Browne diving over following a ruck.
It looked as if Ulster were going to be denied by the plucky Italians, until one last-gasp handling movement from deep ended with Marshall diving over at the posts. A win is a win, and a 32-0 win will keep them on the right track no matter how it was achieved - for now at least.
Ulster – C Gilroy; R Scholes, L Marshall (D Cave, 63), S Olding, J Stockdale; P Jackson, R Pienaar (P Marshall 75); K McCall (Black, 65), R Herring (capt, Andrews, 56), R Lutton (Warwick 47), P Browne (R Wilson 35-40; S Reidy 65), F van der Merwe, R Diack, C Henry, N Williams (Wilson 64).
Zebre – M Muliaina; U Beyers, G Bisegni, T Castello (Toniolatti 67), K Van Zyl, E Padovani (McKinley 40), F Semenzato (Burgess, 53); A De Marchi (Roan 40), O Fabiani (Coria, 73), D Chistolini (Ceccarelli 53), Q Geldenhuys (Koegelenberg, 67), M Bortolami (capt), E Caffini (Cristiano 64), F Ruzza, J Meyer.
Ref – G Clancy (IRFU)