Leaders Ulster return to winning ways
Number eight Robbie Diack scores a try for Ulster during their Pro 12 clash against Italian side Zebre at Ravenhill, Belfast, last night. Photograph: Inpho
Ulster 26 Zebre 3:While the bigger picture was all about how many Ireland players would be left standing to face the Scots, this was still an important clash for Ulster, who had to deliver after last week and duly did so against the bottom side, though it was again a rather patchy performance.
The league leaders – they stayed seven points in front of next Friday’s opponents Glasgow Warriors after the Scots thrashed the Dragons – got off to a bright enough start but they really had to graft to first of all secure the win and then push on for the bonus, which only arrived in the 72nd minute thanks to Ricky Andrew’s try.
While the sight of Chris Henry leaving the action in some discomfort in the second half will hardly have settled Declan Kidney’s nerves, the chances of Luke Marshall being called into camp, or being available for Ulster next week, looked even more remote after his early departure through injury.
The hard-fought win came at a cost and, indeed, Ulster were forced to finish with 14 men at the end when Johann Muller had to go off and no-one was left to replace him.
Still, there were positives for Kidney and Mark Anscombe as Iain Henderson looked strong and Tom Court and Paddy Jackson came through – all pluses for the Ireland coach – while Robbie Diack had a storming game and scored two tries. John Afoa’s return in the second half stabilised the scrum.
After Chris Cochrane’s seventh minute try was disallowed by the TMO for a foot in touch – Andrew Trimble had provided a wonderful one-handed pass for the winger – Ulster immediately scored after Zebre’s overthrow was collected by a grateful Rob Herring who drove over and Ruan Pienaar added the conversion.
Ulster were fortunate when Daniel Halangahu’s 17th minute penalty just dipped under the crossbar. Zebre’s greater aggression going forward brought them the reward of a 32nd minute penalty from Halangahu and Ulster were fortunate to only concede three as a neat break from Halangahu nearly led to a Zebre try.
Then Ulster were hit with a further blow as Luke Marshall was helped off but they did at least finish the half well after Pienaar yet again stepped up to collect a Trimble grubber kick. Substitute Stuart Olding was tackled just short of the line before Pienaar’s long pass saw Diack charge over.
The South African couldn’t convert though but Ulster ended a lacklustre half leading 12-3.
Ulster botched a good position after two scrum penalties before Henry limped from the fray. Ulster struck again after 57 minutes when Diack crossed under the posts from Darren Cave’s offload after Trimble’s great surge.
Pienaar’s conversion made it 19-3 and Ricky Andrew ensured the bonus point for the home side in the 72nd minute. Pienaar kicked the last conversion.