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Ulster aim for top four as Zebre arrive at Kingspan

Guinness PRO12 Rugby Editor 10 Mar 2017

Les Kiss’ side will aim to move ahead of Scarlets and into the Guinness PRO12 top-four when they meet Zebre for the second time in two weeks at the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday.

What’s at stake?

Ulster snapped a two-game losing streak in the Guinness PRO12 with victory over Edinburgh at the Kingspan in Round 14 and are now aiming to wrap up a fifth consecutive win in their rearranged Round 9 fixture with Zebre.

A bonus-point 40-17 win over Zebre at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Round 16 means Ulster go into this is as heavy favourites.

Ulster team news

Kiss has the luxury of naming a team packed with international experience as Jared Payne starts at full-back, with Craig Gilroy and Charles Piutau on the wings.

Stuart Olding starts outside Ruan Pienaar in the halves, with top try-scorer Jacob Stockdale having a run at outside centre alongside Test three-quarter Luke Marshall.

Up front Chris Henry and Marcell Coetzee continue their hugely effective partnership, with Callum Black back in at loosehead and Rob Herring skippering the side from hooker.

Zebre team news

Valerio Bernabo will make his 100th Zebre appearance at the Kingspan Stadium alongside veteran forward Quintin Geldenhuys, while in the back row, promising youngster Frederico Ruzza continues at No. 8.

Victor Jimenez will be able to call upon the experience and influence of Matteo Pratichetti, Josh Furno and Guglielmo Palazzani – try-scorer in the return fixture – from the bench

Talking points:

Back-row Chris Henry insists that Ulster’s surge up the table has been no surprise to all involved with the squad and is holding out hope of sneaking into the Guinness PRO12 semi-finals under the radar.

“There’s one last big effort needed to see out this block and if we get a result it will see us into fourth – that is huge,” the 24-cap back-row said.

“Then every game is a final each week. For us to be in this position, there has been a lot of hard work done by coaches, players, everyone.

“Six weeks ago, a lot of people had probably written us off and said we wouldn’t be here. So for us, it is fantastic.

“I am not too surprised. We are so close. What an amazing achievement if we do make the top four. All you need to do is get there. We have seen that in the past with other teams who have snuck under the radar.” 

Key battle: Marcell Coetzee v Frederico Ruzza

Marcell Coetzee has been the beating heart of Ulster’s attack since recovering from a major knee injury.

He is relentless in his ball-carrying efforts – averaging more than 20 per game – and provides a huge amount of gritty yards.

Ruzza’s importance to Zebre has been further highlighted during the Test window where he has been one of the Italians’ standout players.

A back-row of huge intelligence and surprising strength, he is hugely important to Zebre’s attacking game.

Key stat: Zebre have never won in 22 previous visits to an Irish province in all competitions. The two sides have met on nine previous occasions with Zebre’s only victory being 13-6 in Parma in September 2014.

Did you know?

The Ulstermen’s only defeat in their last 11Championship matches in Belfast was by the narrowest of margins to Munster in round 7 this season

Ulster – Top points scorer: Ruan Pienaar 76pts Top try scorer: Jacob Stockdale 7

Zebre – Top points scorer: Carlo Canna 66pts Top try scorer: Giovanbattista Venditti, Dries van Schalkwyk 4

Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 9, Ulster won 8, Zebre won 1.

At Kingspan Stadium, 6.05pm Live on BBC Sport NI
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 58th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Aled Evans (WRU), Dermot Blake (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Peter Ferguson (IRFU)
TMO: Neil Hennessy (WRU)

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €35 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final

Ulster move into top four with ten-try win over Zebre

Andrew Lawton 11 Mar 2017

Ulster Rugby moved into the Guinness PRO12 top four with a ten-try success over Zebre Rugby in their re-arranged Round 9 fixture with Zebre.

Luke Marshall and Charles Piutau both scored a brace of tries as Ruan Pienaar, Jacob Stockdale, Craig Gilroy, John Andrew, Paul Marshall and Stuart Olding all got on the scoresheet.

Pienaar slotted six conversions with Olding adding three more when he replaced the South African.

The Irish province secured the try bonus point after just half an hour and the victory, their fifth in succession, moves them four points above fifth-placed Scarlets in the league table.

Gideon Koegelenberg was shown a yellow card for a high tackle after just four minutes and Ulster opened the scoring soon after when Luke Marshall dived into the left corner.

But Zebre, who saw Bordoli miss a penalty, were back level after a break by Quintin Geldenhuys released prop Andrea De Marchi to charge over and make it 7-7.

Marshall’s second try came after 15 minutes as her benefitted from strong build-up play by Piutau and Jared Payne with Pienaar adding his second conversion.

Pienaar dotted down and converted Ulster’s third try to put them 21-7 ahead after 18 minutes and Marshall thought he had his hat-trick but saw his score ruled out by the TMO.

And Piutau got the bonus point try with a lovely inside line after a delicate offload from Payne with Stockdale extending the Ulster lead to 35-7 at the break.

Gilroy continued Ulster’s momentum five minutes into the second period with Pienaar adding the conversion once more before Piutau got his second of the night to make it 47-7.

Ulster still weren’t finished as Andrew had try number eight as Gilroy’s grubber kick was collected by Paul Marshall who offloaded to the replacement to go under the posts.

Olding knocking over the conversion with 54 minutes gone before the TMO denied Ulster their ninth on the hour mark.

Zebre had their second try of the evening on 67 minutes as a poor clearance from Ulster was punished by the Italians and Guglielmo Roan went over to make it 54-14.

Olding had a try of his own though barely two minutes later as the Zebre defence bought his dummy and he was able to sneak in under the posts and the replacement converted his own score.

Paul Marshall had Ulster’s final try of the evening, again converted by Olding, but Zebre left Kingspan with three tries of their own after a late Lloyd Greeff score made the full-time score 68-21.

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €35 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final