Ulster will be out for a third successive victory in Guinness PRO14 when Zebre visit Kingspan Stadium on Friday night.
The Irish province climbed to third in the Conference A table off the back of their 23-14 win over Cardiff Blues in Round 4 and will be confident of victory over their Conference rivals.
They welcome back Will Addison into the backline and Ireland’s late call-up Rob Herring into the pack, while Matt Faddes steps into an injury-hit midfield.
Michael Bradley has rung the changes as the visitors aim to beat Ulster for a third time in Guinness PRO14, after triumphing in Parma in September 2014 and September 2017.
Bradley’s nine changes include four in the scrum and five in the backline. Marcello Violi has recovered from injury to make his first start of the season and Irish lock Ian Nagle features.
Two Azzurri, back from World Cup duty, make the bench in the shape of Guglielmo Palazzani and Luca Bigi.
Kick-off: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast | KO 19:35 UK Time, Friday 1 November
How to watch: Live on Premier Sports, DAZN and Eir Sport
Players to watch out for – Will Addison (Ulster) and Mattia Bellini (Zebre)
Addison’s recovery from injury will set Ulster pulses racing, the versatile back playing a significant role in last season’s successes and proving unlucky to miss out on the Rugby World Cup.
Speedy Mattia Bellini is always a try threat and his clean break was one of the closest either side came to a try in Zebre’s 0-3 defeat to Leinster, Bellini beating seven defenders on the day.
The battle of the back rows should be a cracker too, with Maxime Mbanda and Marcell Coetzee both set to shine.
Key stat: Zebre are without a win in the Guinness PRO14 for 12 months since beating Edinburgh in Parma in Round 7 last season.
Ulster: Will Addison, Louis Ludik, Matt Faddes, Luke Marshall, Rob Lyttle, Bill Johnston, David Shanahan; Jack McGrath, Rob Herring (capt), Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Matthew Rea, Nick Timoney, Marcell Coetzee
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Kyle McCall, Ross Kane, Sam Carter, Sean Reidy, John Cooney, Angus Curtis, Craig Gilroy
Zebre: Junior Laloifi, Charlie Walker, James Elliott, Tommaso Boni, Mattia Bellini, Carlo Canna, Marcello Violi; Danilo Fischetti, Oliviero Fabiani, Giosue Zilocchi, Ian Nagle, George Biagi, Maxime Mbanda, Giovanni Licata, Renato Giammarioli
Replacements: Luca Bigi, Daniele Rimpelli, Eduardo Bello, Leonard Krumov, Apisai Tauyavuca, Guglielmo Palazzani, Enrico Lucchin, Joshua Renton
Ulster continued their impressive start to the Guinness PRO14 season with a well-earned 22-7 victory over struggling Zebre at a wet Kingspan Stadium.
The result also extended the visitors’ away day woes, failing to win away from Parma in 13 attempts as scores from Dave Shanahan, Rob Lyttle and a penalty try dashed their hopes in Belfast.
Zebre had come out of the blocks quickly and taken an early lead through wing Mattia Bellini, only for Shanahan to repel their advantage when he touched down midway through the first half.
And Dan McFarland’s side were dominant in the second period, being awarded a deserved penalty try and Lyttle going over to send a further statement of intent to fellow Conference A high-flyers Leinster and Toyota Cheetahs.
It was the visitors who struck first in the unfavourable rugby conditions, starting strongly and making their early pressure pay in just the 2nd minute when winger Bellini went over from close range.
But it was an early concession that would have frustrated McFarland as the Italian breezed through two missed tackles to dot down and get his side off to the perfect start.
But Ulster rallied despite their failure to cope with Zebre’s early intensity, enjoying considerable territory as they grew into the game and translating it into points on 21 minutes.
Inside centre Luke Marshall made an explosive break through the Zebre defence, unselfishly passing to enterprising scrum-half Shanahan who crossed with ease to restore parity in the contest.
And it was the hosts who took the lead just before the break when a cool Bill Johnston penalty turned around the tables and gave Michael Bradley food for thought at half-time.
The Marshall-Shanahan axis was at it again at the start of the second half when another penetrative burst from the centre freed his partner in crime, but the No.9 was stopped just short of the Zebre line.
And the hosts then wasted a sustained 17-phase period of pressure, struggling to break down a resilient and combative Zebre defence as hooker Rob Herring’s try was ruled out for obstruction by Kieran Treadwell.
But Herring helped his side get on the scoresheet shortly after, at the back of a rapidly-moving maul that Ian Nagle stopped illegally – and was sent to the sin-bin for – and a move that prompted referee Sam Grove-White to decisively award a penalty try.
Lyttle then touched down in the corner after an impressive Johnston kick to extend the hosts’ advantage and send Zebre back to Italy with plenty to ponder.
Marshall proved a continual thorn in Zebre’s side, making multiple searing breaks through the opposition defence and setting up Shanahan’s opener with a brilliantly intelligent run.
And such a moment was symptomatic of the No.12’s performance across the whole encounter, pulling the strings in the midfield to help engineer a comfortable victory.
While a first half Lyttle run dazzled the Kingspan crowds it was his try in the second period that represented the most eye-catching action of the evening.
It came after an extended period of Ulster pressure, as the hosts went through several patient phases to create a clear-cut scoring opportunity.
And that eventually came when Johnston kicked precisely crossfield to Lyttle, who was in acres of space out wide to go over with ease.
Cardiff City Stadium will play host to the 2020 Guinness PRO14 Final on June 20 as one of the most exciting days in the club rugby calendar comes to Wales!
General sale tickets are available from http://bit.ly/PRO14Cardiff2020 and prices start at just £13 for concessions and £26 for adults (subject to booking fees), that’s a 15% early bird discount. Family ticket (2 adults / 2 children) prices begin at £64 and fans are encouraged to buy early to get the best value tickets.