Ulster escape from Italy thanks to penalty try
An under-par Ulster side maintained their unbeaten start to the season against Zebre yesterday, but only by the skin of their teeth.
In a remarkable game, the league leaders were outscored four tries to two by the Italian whipping boys, and needed a late penalty try to eventually get out of jail.
Afterwards, a visibly relieved Mark Anscombe labelled his side’s performance as their poorest of the season.
“We got out of jail in the end,” he said. “We played poorly and probably didn’t deserve to win. Zebre put together some nice plays and deserved to get more out of the game.”
Indeed, Ulster were considerably off the pace for much of this rescheduled fixture, which was due to be played last September but rearranged due to the death of Nevin Spence. The reshuffled travel arrangements, Ulster spent 14 hours travelling for the fixture, undoubtedly contributed to their inertia. That, and the absence of so many key players, saw Ulster rely heavily on the boot of Neil O’Connor to keep them in touch. He kicked five penalties from five attempts, a vital contribution as winless Zebre went try-crazy.
Tito Tibaldi got the ball rolling with the first midway through the first half, a direct result of Ulster’s inability to deal with the restart.
Australian outhalf Daniel Halangahu chipped in with Zebre’s second just after half-time, and by the time Andries Van Schalkwyk added a third midway through the half, the miserly home crowd were already getting set to celebrate an historic win.
At last, Ulster woke up and began to play. A well-worked over overlap saw Paddy Wallace get in for their first try of the day but Zebre secured the bonus point when Van Schalkwyk crossed for try number four from the restart.
Then came the pivotal moment of the game. Ulster, presented with a penalty in front of the Zebre posts, opted for the scrum. When the scrum went down a second time, match referee Neil Robertson had no hesitation in awarding the penalty try.
From there, Ulster managed to defend a two-point lead for the remaining five minutes.