Ulster 49 Zebre 3
Another meaningless game for Ulster in terms of the already settled Pro 14 standings, the usefulness of this last league outing will largely have been in terms of getting a hit-out before Easter Sunday’s Challenge Cup trip to Harlequins.
Though this was hardly vintage Ulster – the contest was effectively ended by the first half sending off of reserve hooker Marco Manfredi leading to uncontested scrums and the Italians having 13 men on the field – it was a mostly stress-free result with some fine finishing interspersed with elements of forcing the issue too much.
John Andrew drove over for the first of Ulster's seven tries after 12 minutes from a lineout maul for his own sixth touchdown of the season. Cooney converted but Ulster immediately conceded from a poor kick-off reception and Paolo Pescetto slotted the penalty for Michael Bradley's side.
Zebre, who had former Leinster men Mick Kearney and Ian Nagle in their side, certainly made things uncomfortable for Ulster but were unable to move the scoreboard in their favour.
However, the entire complexion of the game changed when Manfredi was shown a red card by Andrew Brace in the 34th minute, after following through with an elbow onto John Cooney's face, which led to uncontested scrums.
Just to hammer home that this was a game-changing moment, Ulster scored just before the clock turned red when Michael Lowry was put away by James Hume after some great work down the right from Cooney and Robert Baloucoune. Cooney's conversion made it 14-3 to Ulster as the sides left the field.
That became 21-3 two minutes after the restart when Baloucoune trotted over with Cooney adding the two points.
The bonus point was easily secured when skipper Jordi Murphy eased his way over with Cooney again converting.
Despite Zebre’s brave efforts another Ulster score was inevitable and Murphy bagged it off a lineout maul with Lowry converting.
Rob Lyttle got over from Lowry's cross-kick on 66 minutes with Lowry adding the extras.
Zebre, to their credit, finished the stronger, but were held up twice with the floodlights failing on the first occasion before Bradley Roberts got over for Ulster’s seventh try.
ULSTER: E McIlroy; R Baloucoune, J Hume, S Moore, R Lyttle; M Lowry, J Cooney; E O'Sullivan, J Andrew, M Moore; C Izuchukwu, K Treadwell; S Reidy, J Murphy (capt), D McCann.
Replacements: C Reid for O'Sullivan, T O'Toole for Moore (both 44 mins), D Shanahan for Cooney (45 mins), B Roberts for Andrew, A O'Connor for Izuchukwu 52mins, M Rea for Reidy (all 52mins), B Moxham for Moore (54 mins), I Madigan for Hume (72 mins).
ZEBRE: G Di Giulio; P Bruno, T Boni, E Lucchin, J Elliott; P Pescetto, J Renton; P Buonfiglio, M Ceciliani, M Nocera; M Kearney, I Nagle; I Bianchi, L Masselli, P Leavasa.
Replacements: M Manfredi for Ceciliani (2 mins), D Rimpelli for Kearney (37 mins), E Bello for Nocera (45 mins), L Krumov for Nagle (53 mins), G Palazzani for Renton (57mins), C Alaimalo for Masselli (64 mins).
Red card: Manfredi 34mins.
Referee: A Brace (IRFU).