Anscombe makes seven changes as Ulster search for right balance against struggling Zebre
Italian side have lost all 10 previous matches played against Irish provinces
Ireland outhalf Paddy Jackson returns to partner Paul Marshall who is at scrumhalf. Photograph: Inpho
Ulster send as strong a team as they can muster today to meet Zebre, the weaker of the two Italian sides in the league. Like his counterparts in Leinster and Munster, coach Mark Anscombe is searching for the right balance for next week’s Heineken Cup plunge.
Seven changes to the team that beat Alan Solomons’ Edinburgh last weekend have come about through rotation and injury as well as some shuffling of position.
For a while last week Anscombe was short of secondrows as Iain Henderson, who will be a considerable loss, and Lewis Stevenson fell to injury, Dan Tuohy and Neil McComb taking up residence there this week.
Ulster have rejigged enough this year to scramble for the Italians with Ricky Andrew, who scored a try against Zebre at Ravenhill last season, starting at fullback and Ireland’s Craig Gilroy moving to the left wing . Andrew Trimble continues on the right wing, alongside Darren Cave and Luke Marshall, who keep their places in an extremely dangerous midfield.
Irish and Lions right wing Tommy Bowe is resting along with Springbok Ruan Pienaar after the November internationals while the injured Stuart Olding is a long-term casualty.
In the frontrow Tom Court is selected at loosehead, Rob Herring and All Black tighthead prop John Afoa also holding on to their starting places. Robbie Diack captains the side for the second time from blindside with Mike McComish named at openside and Roger Wilson starting at number eight.
Despite missing some front-line players Ulster face a Zebre team without a win in their last five Pro12 matches, their only break from weekly beatings this season a 16-16 at home to Scarlets.
Zebre have lost all 10 previous matches they have played against Irish provinces, earning just three losing bonus points and one try bonus from those ties. Ulster’s only loss in their last eight matches in all tournaments was 9-17 at Scarlets. Ulster have never lost to Zebra and have only once lost to Italian opposition, in 2011 to Treviso. It looks like this week that trend will continue.