A strong second half from Ulster saw them claim a bonus-point victory over Zebre in Parma on Saturday evening.
The opening exchanges proved to be a tight encounter with an aerial kicking battle to test the back field of both sides. Zebre had a spell of territory, but Ulster did well with their maul defence for Rob Herring to get out of immediate danger five metres out.
Ulster’s first chance came in the 14th minute with Nathan Doak, making his first competitive start for Ulster, making his way agonisingly close to the Zebre try line. The hosts’ defensive efforts paid off with a penalty which Carlo Canna kicked to touch to relieve the pressure.
Another opportunity came for the visitors as Tom O’Toole tried to muscle his way over but after a TMO check, he was just short. Ulster finally broke the deadlock on 20 minutes when they opted to go wide with Billy Burns firing the ball out to Ethan McIlroy to bundle over in the corner.
Zebre narrowed the deficit to two shortly before the break – Antonio Rizzi who had come on to replace Carlo Canna landed the kick for the hosts.
Ulster struck again just before the half-time whistle. They again opted to go through the hands and James Hume made a lovely step and delayed pass to McIlroy who ran through for his second try of the evening to put Ulster seven ahead at the break.
It didn’t take long for another score to come from Ulster after the interval. They benefited from poor Zebre discipline and Craig Gilroy did really well to collect the loose ball to pop out to Will Addison for their third try. Billy Burns made no mistake with the extras.
Zebre’s discipline again faltered, and prop Ion Neculai was sent to the sin-bin after repeated infringements. The floodgates started to open and once again, Craig Gilroy came to the fore to collect the ball off the floor and flick it out the back door to James Hume who ran through for the bonus-point try.
Five minutes and another Zebre yellow card later, Ulster’s forwards carried hard and kept it tight. Nick Timoney was the man to show real strength to get over for their fifth try. Nathan Doak, who had been pulling the strings all evening, slotted over the conversion.
Zebre tried to respond and had an opportunity, but good Ulster defensive pressure caused the hosts to knock-on a few metres out, and scuppering their only real chance in the second half.
The Ulster men saw out the game with a flourish, with Sean Reidy sending Nick Timoney on a barnstorming run and a change of direction to run in untouched for his second try. Mike Lowry landed the two on the final whistle.
Up next for Ulster is Benetton at Kingspan Stadium next Friday evening.
Full-time score: Zebre 3 Ulster 36
Pen: Antonio Rizzi
Tries: Ethan McIlroy (2), Will Addison, James Hume, Nick Timoney (2)
Cons: Billy Burns, Nathan Doak, Mike Lowry
(15-9) Junior Laloifi, Gabriele Di Giulio, Giulio Bisegni (CAPT), Tommaso Boni, Asaeli Tuivuaka, Carlo Canna, Alessandro Fusco;
(1-8) Danilo Fischetti, Luca Bigi, Matteo Nocera, David Sisi, Leonard Krumov, Maxime Mbanda’, Potu Junior Leavasa, Giovanni Licata.
Replacements: Oliviero Fabiani, Andrea Lovotti, Ion Neculai, Andrea Zambonin, Renato Giammarioli, Guglielmo Palazzani, Antonio Rizzi, Jacopo Trulla
(15-9) Will Addison, Craig Gilroy, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, Nathan Doak;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor (Capt.), Mick Kearney, Matty Rea, Nick Timoney, David McCann.
Replacements: Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Marty Moore, Sam Carter, Sean Reidy, David Shanahan, Mike Lowry, Ben Moxham.
Slow start but we really turned it on in the 2nd half. @NickTimoney is a beast! @cgilroy14 aka The Magic Man. Young @nathan_doak is so impressive, as is @_jume12 & Ethan McIlroy. The Italian Job is done!#ZEBvULS #URC #SUFTUM https://t.co/qwQiGDWXYz— David Patterson (@DPatz13) October 2, 2021