Belfast Telegraph

At least this time we're justified in saying Zebre at home will be tough: Ulster coach Roddy Grant

 

Timely warning: Roddy Grant will have Ulster on red alert for their clash against Zebre
Timely warning: Roddy Grant will have Ulster on red alert for their clash against Zebre

By Michael Sadlier

One unexpected event at least managed to alter the usual tiptoeing around playing Zebre at home this Friday.

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The fact that Leinster just about got out of Parma last weekend with four points - more than they actually scored - meant that the usual narrative could be, well, revisited.

Leinster's 3-0 win was rightly seized upon by Ulster forwards coach Roddy Grant as proving that the Italians, even though they are bottom of Conference A and winless after four games, will be heading to Belfast feeling encouraged that the loss to the southern province could have gone their way.

"You'll always get the answer that every game is a tough game but it makes it slightly easier (to say) with what they (Zebre) just did at the weekend," said Grant.

"Leinster, traditionally one of the best teams in the league, have gone pretty well this season, so to get a 3-0 score in that means it's a pretty easy argument to say this (Zebre on Friday) is going to be a tough game.

"From any game at home you want a big performance. You want to win any game anyway, but you certainly want to win at home.

"(Whether we get) five points or not it's a big game for us, we need league points and we'll be working really hard with the aim to win the game."

It helped Zebre's cause last weekend that they had a raft of internationals back in their ranks, though Ulster's hopes of acquiring anyone who was with Ireland in Japan is not so clear cut.

Rob Herring, a very late and unused call-up to the squad after Sean Cronin's injury, could well feature, as might Jordi Murphy, also brought over earlier in the competition for Jack Conan before shipping his own issue, should he be fit.

However, Grant was unable to confirm if either player is in line to feature, nor, indeed, did he venture a definitive steer on whether Stuart McCloskey, who was last seen at the Southern Kings when he appeared to limp from the field on what was his first game of the season, would be good to go again.

With centre James Hume presumed to be unable to play on Friday night after being carted off with a suspected hamstring issue early in the clash with Cardiff Blues last Friday, Dan McFarland may be looking at a midfield made up of Luke Marshall and Matt Faddes, which was the combination last weekend after just two minutes of play.

As for tighthead prop Marty Moore, who has yet to be seen on the pitch in this campaign, the safe money would suggest that he may still not be playing come Friday.

As for the 23-14 win over the Blues, Grant pretty much called it right when summing up Ulster's third win from four games which sees them just one point behind second-placed Cheetahs in Conference A.

"We were pleased to win but we played well in spells," stated the former Edinburgh forwards coach.

"So I'm mixed between happy that we won but also frustrated that obviously it wasn't an 80-minute performance, or a performance where we wanted to keep pushing on."

One player who stood out was Marcell Coetzee, who very much over-achieved with his 21 carries, 15 tackles and two turnovers against Cardiff.

And though Ulster's discipline wasn't where it should have been - they shipped 12 penalties - the Springbok back-rower's work rate was pretty much off the scale.

"He's a world-class ball carrier, we want him to be on the ball as does he," said Grant.

"It's a mix of he's doing what he's good at and also looking for ball.

"And he gets used in systems that can get him on the ball," stressed Grant.

"But you want as many people sharing that workload and good ball-carriers carrying."

Hence the need and hope to get the other imposing presences of McCloskey fit again and, ultimately, squad skipper Iain Henderson back after being rested following his game time at the World Cup.

In the meantime, it's about polishing the pack's maul attack and defence as well as other work-ons for Zebre.

"It's another big challenge, so we're going to have to keep making strides," added Grant.

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