Mark Anscombe frustrated over drop in standards
ZEBRE 11 ULSTER 19
"A job done, yes, but not well."
Paraphrased, that was Mark Anscombe's assessment of the game against Zebre in Parma. Four points gained, fair enough, but there were far too many errors for the no-nonsense New Zealander's liking.
Even though they had to dig out this win minus the services of front-liners Johann Muller, Ruan Pienaar, Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Rory Best, Chris Henry, Iain Henderson, Nick Williams and Stuart Olding, the coach was not pleased.
Zebre fielded an experienced side full of Italian internationals plus a former All Black in scrum-half Brendon Leonard.
And when their 22-year-old full-back Guglielmo Palazzani capped a good afternoon's work by scoring the hosts' try in the 55th minute, Ulster's lead had been trimmed to eight points. Though that was the way it stayed.
Fresh from his time with Ireland during the Guinness Series, Paddy Jackson landed four of his five penalty attempts as well as converting Darren Cave's sumptuous 28th-minute try.
That came about as a result of a delightfully disguised pass by Jackson to Craig Gilroy, whose beautiful run and feed put the centre in, this after a worryingly slow start by Ulster. Finally they had begun to play a little, giving rise to the hope there might be better to come. They flattered to deceive; the anticipated improvement never materialised.
At the outset, Zebre dominated in terms of territory and possession but an early penalty from 40 metres by impressive centre Gonzalo Garcia was their only reward.
Jackson promptly cancelled that out, whereupon Garcia restored his side's three-point advantage only to see the Ulster out-half level the scores again. And then came that glorious Cave try which enabled the guests to lead 13-6 at the break.
Though two more Jackson penalties in the 48th and 51st minutes stretched the lead to 13 points at 19-6, that was their lot.
That deserved try by Palazzani gave the hosts fresh heart but neither side managed to add a point in the final 25 minutes.
"It's a job done but done ugly. We had a poor start; we didn't have any ball for the first 20 minutes. Then we started playing some reasonable rugby and putting some pressure on them, but we didn't look after it.
"We put on a bit of pressure and scored a nice try that took us into a 13-6 lead at the break. But then, although we'd talked about the importance of a good start, we just allowed them to play too much.
"We dropped our standards today, simple as that," he said.
But finding a positive he was able to add: "It's not an easy place to come to and we've got four points. We're at the right end of the table and there's five or six more months of it. It's early days – we're not halfway yet, but at least we're at the right end of where we need to be."
In addition, he is hopeful that hooker Rob Herring will be fit to face Treviso after suffering a minor knock in Parma.
Zebre – G Palazzani; L Sarto (R Quartaroli 74), K Ratuvou, G Garcia, G Venditti; T Iannone (L Orquera 48), B Leonard (A Chillon 50); M Aguero (S Perugini 48), T D'Apice (A Manici 48), D Ryan (L Leibson 21); Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (E Caffini 73); M Bergamasco, N Cattina (F Cristiano 61), S Vunisa.
Ulster – R Andrew; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall ( M Allen 67), C Gilroy; P Jackson, P Marshall (M Heaney 75); T Court (C Black 59), Herring (N Annett 45), J Afoa (D Fitzpatrick 67); N McComb, D Tuohy; R Diack, M McComish (S Doyle 45), R Wilson.
REF – A McMenemy (Scotland)