Zebre offer Ulster perfect chance to bounce back
Published 04/03/2016 | 02:30
Going through a bad patch? Lost your last two games? Confidence in need of a lift? Why not invite Zebre over for a game to lift your spirits.
The Italians are the perfect guests to give Les Kiss' Ulster a boost after the successive defeats that have left them battling for a play-off spot with six regular-season games remaining.
The northern province's position should be helped by the fact that they still have two games against Zebre, but with Glasgow and Connacht next up, Craig Gilroy is clear on the importance on claiming as much as possible at Kingspan Stadium tonight.
"It's a must-win," he said. "If we want to get into the play-offs, get a home semi-final, we really need a big finish to this season.
"There are not a lot of games left now and there are big ones coming up. It starts against Zebre an we need to show what it means to us."
Kiss has recalled Rob Herring to captain his side, while Gilroy lines out at full-back. Props Kyle McCall and Ricky Lutton also return with the Edinburgh-bound Rory Scholes fit again to start on the wing.
It is a strong side, marshalled by Paddy Jackson who remains on the outside of the international set-up looking in, with Ruan Pienaar there to lend an experienced hand.
Defeats to Scarlets and Cardiff Blues that have left Ulster looking over their shoulders weeks after being in prime position.
"The boys know they let themselves down and each other down and a lot of good supporters down," said Kiss.
Having seemed almost certain to qualify for Europe after beating Treviso at Christmas, Zebre now look in danger of losing out to their Italian rivals, who have gotten their act together in recent weeks.
Parma-based Zebre have lost four on the bounce in the Pro12 and are shipping a lot of tries.
Mils Muliaina lines out at full-back for Zebre, who have three members of Italy's Six Nations squad in their line-up, with Giulio Bisegni, Edoardo Padovani and Daniel Chistolini all starting.
They have a pack that looks like it will be game, but lack quality behind the scrum, where Ulster have the superior fire-power.
Ulster have made life difficult for themselves in recent weeks, but this should be a home banker for a team operating on another level to their opponents.
ULSTER - C Gilroy; R Scholes, L Marshall, S Olding, J Stockdale; P Jackson, R Pienaar; K McCall, R Herring (capt), R Lutton; P Browne, F van der Merwe; R Diack, C Henry, N Williams. Reps: J Andrew, C Black, A Warwick, R Wilson, S Reidy, P Marshall, S Windsor, D Cave.
ZEBRE - M Muliaina; G Toniolatti, G Bisegni, T Castello, K Van Zyl; E Padovani, F Semenzato; A De Marchi, O Fabiani, D Chistolini; Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (capt); E Caffini, J Meyer, F Ruzza. Reps: E Coria, G Roan, P Ceccarelli, G Koegelenberg, F Cristiano, L Burgess, I McKinley, U Beyers.
Ref - G Clancy (IRFU)
Ulster v Zebre, Live, BBC1 NI, 7.35