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Ulster fly-half Ian Humphreys is eager to repay fans' patience against Zebre tonight

By Matt Lloyd

Ian Humphreys says Ulster's stars are desperate to give their fans reason to be cheerful following a summer of discontent.

It has been far from a quiet off-season at the Kingspan Stadium where the exit door has barely stopped revolving.

The departure of director of rugby and club legend David Humphreys combined with the acrimonious exit of head coach Mark Anscombe as well as a core of vastly experienced players, including World Cup winners Johann Muller and John Afoa.

It has been enough to exasperate even the most ardent of Ulster supporter.

Yet a remarkable comeback in last Saturday's opening game of the season at Scarlets fuelled optimism for this rebuilding campaign.

And now fly-half Humphreys revealed the team are desperate to lift the gloom at the Kingspan with their first home game against Zebre tonight.

"It's a huge thing among all the players to give the fans something to cheer about," said Humphreys.

"The last few years have been quite successful without actually getting over the line and winning silverware.

"The game (at Scarlets) was day one after a lot of change and there was a lot of positives to take from it. Taking three points from Llanelli was a good start and has really given us something to build on for the season."

Ulster have only once lost to Italian opposition and have not suffered back-to-back defeats in Belfast, after losing 22-20 against Leinster last time out, for more than four years.

However Zebre, beaten 41-26 by Cardiff Blues on Sunday, have genuine ambitions of surpassing Benetton Treviso as Italy's premier club and took losing bonus points from both their meetings with Ulster last season.

"It's going to be a competitive and tough match as it always is with Italian opposition. They battle hard and have a strong set-piece," said Humphreys.

"But we always expect to win at home in front of our supporters and even though it will be a tough match, these are the games we know we must win."

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