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Ulster's Stuart Olding fired up for the final push after resounding Zebre 47-17 victory

Zebre 17-47 Ulster

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster took charge of their PRO12 play-off destiny with a seven-try 47-17 rout against Zebre at the Stadio Lanfranchi on Saturday afternoon.

The win, coupled with Scarlets' heavy home defeat to Glasgow, saw Les Kiss' side return to the top four and left them knowing that nine points from their remaining two games against Leinster and Ospreys will guarantee a semi-final spot.

The visitors' back-three did the majority of the damage with Jared Payne, deployed at full-back, providing a hat-trick, Tommy Bowe adding a brace on his return from six months out with a knee injury and top scorer Craig Gilroy finishing another.

Scrum-half Ruan Pienaar had grabbed the first to set Ulster on their way.

For Stuart Olding, it was a case of job done and on to Leinster at home in two weekends' time.

"We came here on a mission to get five points," said the inside centre. "It's mission accomplished and we're back in the play-off positions.

"We need two wins from our next two games so we'll have a good training week this week and then into Leinster. It's a massive game, a nice derby inter-pro at the end of the PRO12. They're going pretty well at the minute so it'll be tough, but hopefully we can get the win and take it from there."

Part of a backline showing signs of kicking into gear late in the season, Olding was pleased with the contributions of those behind the pack, especially the control shown by out-half Paddy Jackson during his 43 minutes with a hand on the tiller.

"Zebre at home are a different animal and we knew we had to come here, start well and score whenever we were in their 22," he added. "We did that and let them in for one but thankfully not too many more.

"It was nice to play in the sun for a change and I think everyone had a good buzz when we arrived. The pitch promoted running rugby which is the style we want to play but haven't been able to for the last few weeks.

"Some things clicked. A few didn't so we'll look at those but we'll take that.

"I haven't had too much time outside Jacko for the last while so it was good. To play at 12, I enjoyed it and I think our games work well together as the two play-makers.

"We know each other's game really well and we can adapt to each other. I thought he was excellent before he unfortunately had to go off and I slipped into 10."

Ulster led after two minutes when Jackson exploited a gap in the Zebre defence and put Pienaar over the line underneath the posts.

While the hosts came back to tie the score soon after when Guglielmo Palazzani reaped the benefits of his forwards' rolling maul, Ulster's superior quality was evident from there on.

With a dry ball and sunshine in Parma, Kiss' men were able to play at pace and have their way.

Bowe marked his return with the first of his two tries after a nice pass from Jackson and defensive miscommunication from the Italians.

A charge from Quintin Geldenhuys threatened another quick response just before the 20 minute mark but the chance went begging, though Zebre did add a penalty through Carlos Canna.

Craig Gilroy scored his eighth PRO12 try of the year after taking advantage of poor Zebre work and Ulster had the bonus point wrapped up before half-time when Payne added his first.

With Palazzani binned to give Ulster a man advantage for virtually the first 10 minutes of the second-half, Payne was in again after good work from Bowe and Olding, and completed his hat-trick with under half an hour to go.

Confusion in the ranks allowed Ulrich Beyers in for a soft score to reduce the arrears but after a loose final quarter, Ulster had the last say when Bowe crossed minutes before the final whistle.

Zebre: K van Zyl; D Berryman, G Bisegni, M Pratichetti, L Sarto; C Canna, G Palazzani; A Lovotti, O Fabiani, P Ceccarelli; Q Geldenhuys (c), V Bernabo; J Cook, F Ruzza, G Koegelenberg

Replacements: B Postiglioni, A de Marchi (for Lovotti, 54), D Chistolini (for Ceccarelli, 46), M Bortolami, E Caffini (for Ruzza, 54), L Burgess, U Beyers (for van Zyl, 49), T Boni (for Bisegni, 53)

Tries: Palazzani, Beyers Cons: Canna (2) Pen: Canna

Ulster: J Payne; T Bowe, L Marshall, S Olding, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Best (c), R Lutton, P Browne, F van der Merwe, I Henderson, S Reidy, R Wilson

Replacements: R Herring (for Best, 46) K McCall (for Black, 54), A Warwick (for Lutton, 63), R Diack (for van der Merwe, 46), C Henry (for Wilson, 46) P Marshall (for Pienaar, 63), D Cave (for Jackson, 43), R Scholes (for L Marshall, 73)

Tries: Pienaar, Bowe (2), Gilroy, Payne (3) Cons: Jackson (3), Pienaar (2), Olding

Star man: Stuart Olding

Referee: Nigel Owens

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