Jackson pulls strings as Ulster hold off Zebre
Zebre 11 Ulster 19
Paddy Jackson's 14 points from the kicking tee proved decisive as Ulster ground out a hard-earned RaboDirect Pro 12 victory in Italy.
Ireland out-half Jackson's solid goal-kicking guided Ulster past the gritty Italian franchise for 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 but Ulster wore their hosts down and forced 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 two more 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 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.
Schmidt wants his young stars playing regularly so he will be quietly contented to see Jackson still making solid progress, especially with Ian Madigan battling for chances at Leinster with Kiwi Jimmy Gopperth.
Scorers – Zebre: Palazzani try; Garcia 2 pens. Ulster: Cave try; Jackson 4 pens, con.
Zebre: Palazzani, Sarto, Ratuvou, Garcia, Venditti, Iannone, Leonard, Aguero, T. D'Apice, Ryan, Geldenhuys, Bortolami, Bergamasco, Cattina, Vunisa. Reps: Manici, Perugini, Leibson, Caffini, Cristiano, Chillon, Orquera, Quartaroli.
Ulster: R Andrew, Trimble, Cave, L. Marshall, Gilroy, Jackson, P. Marshall, Court, Herring, Afoa, McComb, Tuohy, Diack, McComish, Wilson. Reps: Annett, Black, Fitzpatrick, Joyce, Doyle, Heaney, McKinney, Allen.
Referee: A McMenemy (Scotland)