Ulster's run ends with humbling loss to Zebre
Zebre 27 Ulster 23
Ulster's winning run came to a sobering end as they went down to a shock defeat to Michael Bradley's men in Parma.
Zebre had secured their first win of the season at Southern Kings last weekend, and tries from Giovanni Licata, Mattia Bellini and Renato Giammarioli saw them over the line as Ulster fell to their first league defeat since April.
Darren Cave did score a late try to earn a losing bonus point for Ulster but they were poor and could not capitalise on Andrew Trimble's first-half effort, which gave them a 13-6 half-time lead.
Despite an early break from Rodney Ah You, Les Kiss's men were on the back foot for much of the opening half, especially in the first quarter where Zebre dominated and should have led by more than 3-0.
Carlo Canna slotted a penalty after four minutes as the Italians' flair and expansive game-plan caused real problems for Ulster, who kept conceding easy yards.
Italian international Canna could have put his side 6-0 up after six minute but he missed a penalty and that temporarily drained the life out of the Zebre cause.
Ulster finally got some time on the ball and it took a last-ditch intervention from Giovanni Licata to prevent Christian Lealiifano from touching down.
But in the 17th minute All Black Charles Piutau showed his class once more as he barrelled his way through a series of would-be tacklers, and his pass put Trimble over. John Cooney kicked the conversion and Ulster were somehow 7-3 ahead.
Canna reduced the arrears to the minimum with his second penalty but Cooney cancelled that out.
The Italians still looked dangerous, with winger Mattia Bellini their main threat, but Canna was off target with another penalty attempt in the 26th minute.
Cooney kicked his second penalty just before half-time and Ulster held a 13-6 interval advantage.
But Zebre wrested control of the game after half-time and Licata scored their first try when Cana delivered an inch-perfect cross-field kick in the 48th minute.
The hosts were in the ascendancy and punished Ulster five minutes later when Bellini got the try his brilliant performance deserved.
Ulster came in search of the win late on and Cooney reduced the arrears before replacement tighthead Wiehahn Herbst had a try ruled out with 11 minutes remaining.
No 8 Rennato Giammarioli scored an intercept try with time running out but Cave salvaged a losing bonus point.
Scorers - Zebre: G Licata, M Bellini, R Giammarioli try each; C Canna con, 2 pens, M Violi 2 cons; Ulster: D Cave try, con; A Trimble try; J Cooney con, 3 pens.
Zebre: M Minozzi; G Bisegni (G Palazzani 80), T Boni (G Venditti 64), T Castello, M Bellini; C Canna (S Bordoli 74), M Violi; A Lovotti (S Panico 40), O Fabiani (L Luus 68), D Chistolini (E Bello 62); D Sisi (L Krumow 49), G Biagi; G Licata, J Meyer, R Giammarioli (J Sarto 74).
Ulster: C Piutau; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, L Ludik (R Lyttle 50); C Lealiifano, J Cooney (D Shanahan 64); C Black (A Warwick 50), J Andrew, R Ah You(W Herbst 50); P Browne (K Treadwell 28), I Henderson; M Rea, S Reidy (A McBurney 78), J Deysel (N Timoney 55).
Referee: M Adamson (Scotland).
Sunday Indo Sport