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Sorry Zebre have failed to disguise their home failings

By Jonathan Bradley

After another tumultuous week at the Kingspan Stadium all those involved with Ulster Rugby will have been relieved to have been afforded such a straightforward task by their Italian visitors last night.

Indeed with Les Kiss set to depart the province in the coming weeks, whoever does take charge is unlikely to have a more comfortable evening all season as was granted to the interim Director of Rugby who saw his side wrap up a bonus point with a quarter of the game remaining.

With Zebre finishing last season within one point of fellow Italians Benetton Treviso there had been hope that this could be a significant campaign for the men from Parma.

There was little sign of that however as Zebre made nine changes and fielded nothing like a full-strength line-up.

Without the likes of captain Marco Bortolami, Mirco Bergamasco and Luciano Orquera in the ranks a number of the team's more experienced figures were absent while young internationals such as Leonardo Sarto and Tommaso Ianonne also didn't feature.

The ragged nature of the side sent out by Zebre was apparent from the opening minutes when, having turned the ball over thanks to a wayward lineout throw, they were penalised in the scrum and should have conceded moments later only for returning skipper Rory Best to drop the ball with the line at his mercy.

Those blushes were short-lived when a scrum, dominated by Wiehahn Herbst and Andrew Warwick, was won against the head and Nick Williams powered over to score.

The home side were far from perfect themselves and granted Zebre a brief spell of hope with defending that will, with the 32 points shipped to Scarlets last week still fresh in the mind, have both Kiss and Johnny Bell pausing for thought.

Mauro Bergamasco, no stranger to the darker arts of the game, looked to have a hold of Best to stop the Ulster hooker making a tackle but referee Leighton Hodges failed to spot the infringement and awarded a try to Samuela Vunisa.

An indiscipline that saw Ulster warned by Hodges led to Zebre gaining the advantage when Kelly Haimona knocked over a penalty.

They never looked capable of maintaining the lead and tries from Craig Gilroy and Robbie Diack nine minutes apart had Ulster 19-10 in front before the half hour mark.

As thoughts turned to what now looked like an inevitable bonus point, the fact that the important fourth score took so long to arrive was more Ulster's doing than their opponents.

Had the home side been in a more clinical mood they could have ran in a succession of scores and it was only a series of errant passing and handling errors that halted their progress.

There were sighs of relief around the Kingspan when Andrew Trimble belatedly ensured that the evening would yield the expected five points with a try 20 minutes from the end.

Dan Tuohy's score in the 65th minute brought a gloss to the scoreline that should have been added long ago but the disjointed play continued to a degree that there will still be much to do on the training paddock ahead of next week's visit to Cardiff.

Les Kiss, and indeed whoever is to succeed him, will know that there are far sterner challenges that lie ahead this season.

Belfast Telegraph


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