Ulster head to Parma on Saturday where they will be entertained by a Zebre side fresh off the back of their first win of the Guinness PRO14 season.
What’s at stake:
Zebre will be in a buoyant mood after their sensational 43-17 win over Southern Kings last week gifted them with their first points of the season.
Unbeaten Ulster will be confident but must be careful not to underestimate a Zebre side who scored six tries in their last game.
Team news (Zebre):
Zebre have made only one change to the starting XV that faced off against Southern Kings last week, with tighthead prop Dario Chistolini replacing Roberto Tenga in the number three jersey.
On the bench, Italian youngster Luhandre Luus gets his first call of the season after recovering from pre-season injury.
Argentinian international Eduardo Bello also makes his first appearance on the bench after signing for Zebre over the summer.
Team news (Ulster):
Ulster are taking the match against seriously Zebre, and they have named ten internationals in the side, with John Cooney and Christian Lealiifano returning in the half-back positions.
Hooker John Andrew is also set for his first start of the season, and he will earnhis 28th Ulster appearance.
All eyes will be on Ulster captain Andrew Trimble as he takes his side to the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
The Ulster stalwart is set to equal Roger Wilson’s historic record of 221 appearance for province when he starts on the right wing this weekend.
Trimble has been capped more than 70 times for Ireland and helped spearhead Ulster to the European Champions Cup final in 2012.
Key Battle: Mattia Bellini v Andrew Trimble
Both wingers are in scoring form and the success of their respective teams relies on them putting in strong performances.
With three tries Mattia Bellini is Zebre’s top try scorer and he must play well if the Italians are to get anything out of the game. Despite their suspect defence Bellini’s speed has ensured that Zebre always pose a threat in attack.
Ulster captain Andrew Trimble will also be keen to add to the two tries he’s already scored, and with top scorer Jacob Stockdale not present he must step up and fill the gap he has left. The experienced Trimble will be keen to exploit the questionable Zebre defence.
Key Stat: Only four players have more offloads than Tommaso Castello in the Guinness PRO14 this season, eight.
Did you know? Last weekend Zebre’s Matteo Minozzi gained 155 meters – more than any other player in Guinness PRO14 round four.
Zebre: M Minozzi, G Bisegni, T Boni, T Castello, M Bellini, C Canna, M Violi, A Lovotti, O Fabiani, D Chistolini, D Sisi, G Biagi, G Licata, J Meyer, R Giammarioli
Replacements: L Luus, S Panico, E Bello, L Krumow, J Sarto, G Palazzani, S Bordoli, G Venditti
Ulster: C Piutau, A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, L Ludik, C Lealiifano, J Cooney, J Deysel, C Black, J Andrew, R Ah You, P Browne, I Henderson, M Rea, S Reidy, J Deysel
Replacements: A McBurney, A Warwick, W Herbst, K Treadwell, N Timoney, D Shanahan, P Nelson, R Lyttle.
TV: BBC Sport NI (KO: 2.35pm)
Match Officials – Referee: Mike Adamson (IRU) AR1: Andrea Piardi (FIR) AR2: Manuel Bottino (FIR) TMO: Neil Paterson
Zebre produced a brilliant second-half display to stun Ulster and end their perfect start to the Guinness PRO14 season with a 27-23 victory in Parma.
Trailing 13-6 at half-time, Zebre ran in three scores after the break to wrap up a second successive victory following last week’s success in Port Elizabeth.
For Ulster, it was a first setback of the campaign, although Darren Cave’s try at the death at least earned them a losing bonus point.
The home side opened the scoring just three minutes in thanks to a penalty from Carlo Canna but Ulster soon opened their own account.
Andrew Trimble was the man to cross for the try but it was made by Charles Piutau, creating a chance where Zebre looked to be set in defence. But the former All Black is much more than just quick feet and pace in open space, he has surprising power, and was able to force his way through a couple of tacklers before offloading for Trimble to score. John Cooney converted to make it 7-3 to the visitors.
Zebre responded with three more points from Canna, although he was off-target with another shot a little later in the half.
Instead it was Cooney who knocked over two penalties to give Ulster a 13-6 lead heading into the break.
Zebre had been playing well with little reward, but that changed in the early stages of the second half as they stunned Ulster.
First Giovanni Licata went over on 48 minutes to level the game, and he was followed by Mattia Bellini shortly after.
The winger had been the standout performer for Zebre in the first half, constantly threatening with ball in hand. And eventually he and Matteo Minozzi combined to send Bellini over, with Marcello Violi converting to make it 20-13 to the Italians.
Ulster needed a response, and cut the deficit to four points with a penalty from John Cooney as they threw everything at their opponents.
With 12 minutes left, Ulster thought they had retaken the lead through Wiehahn Herbst after a rolling maul.
Unfortunately for Ulster, they had committed obstruction at the maul in the build-up to the try, with the score disallowed after consultation with the TMO.
That gave Zebre the chance to clear their lines, but still Ulster came at them. That was until Renato Giammarioli picked off a pass on the 22 and showed remarkable pace for a No.8 to go all the way for Zebre’s third try. Violi converted to make the game safe, seemingly.
Ulster did what they could to come back, eventually crossing through Cave, who converted his own try with a drop goal, but they could not find another score in the final minute and instead had to settle for a losing bonus point.
Zebre, meanwhile, move up to fourth in Conference B with their second win of the campaign.
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie