Pro12: Ulster 33-13 Zebre
|Ulster (19) 33|
|Tries: Williams, Gilroy, Diack, Trimble, Tuohy|
|Cons: Humphreys 4|
|Zebre (10) 13|
|Cons: Haimona Pens: Haimona 2|
Ulster notched five tries as they earned a bonus-point win over a battling Zebre side in the Pro12 encounter at Kingspan Stadium.
Nick Williams's early Ulster try was cancelled out by a Sam Vunisa touchdown and a Kelly Haimona penalty then edged the visitors into a 10-7 lead.
But Craig Gilroy and Robbie Diack tries helped Ulster lead 19-10 at the break.
The sin-binning of Ricky Andrew couldn't prevent Andrew Trimble and Dan Tuohy adding further Ulster tries.
Ireland wing Trimble produced a series of line breaks and deservedly picked up the man-of-the-match award.
Ulster's line-out misfired on a number of occasions but the home team's scrum looked extremely solid as summer signing Wiehahn Herbst combined effectively with captain Rory Best and Andrew Warwick.
Best squandered an immediate try-scoring chance after spilling a Darren Cave pass but Williams scored Ulster's first touchdown moments later after the Zebre scrum had disintegrated.
Ian Humphreys added the extras for Ulster but Zebre fought back to lead 10-7 although their try had more than an element of controversy about it as Mauro Bergamasco clearly held on to Best's leg at the the base of a ruck which allowed replacement Vunisia to burst through the resultant gap to notch the score.
Haimona's 12th-minute penalty nudged Zebre ahead but Ulster regained the lead five minutes later as Gilroy burst through some weak tackling to score after a move started by Trimble's successful chip and chase.
The Ulster lead was increased to 19-10 in the 27th minute as Andrew's perfectly delayed pass set up Diack to score in the corner.
Ulster went close to securing the bonus point before the break but then went off the boil in the 15 minutes after half-time as Louis Ludik had to produce a superb tackle to prevent Vunisa scoring a second Zebre try.
Andrew could have few complaints about his 56th-minute sin-binning for his aerial challenge on Brendon Leonard which brought back memories of Jared Payne's tackle on Andy Goode in last season's Heineken Cup quarter-final.
But the temporary loss of Andrews only led Ulster to redouble their efforts as they scored two tries during the full-back's absence.
Firstly, Paul Marshall's sniping run off another rock-solid scrum set up Trimble to secure the bonus-point score while lock Tuohy added the fifth try after another break from the man of the match.
Ulster: R Andrew, A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; I Humphreys, P Marshall; A Warwick, R Best (cpt), W Herbst, L Stevenson, D Tuohy, R Diack, C Henry, N Williams.
Replacements: L Ludik for Cave 11 mins, S Olding for L Marshall 67, B Ross for P Marshall 69, R Murphy for Warwick 61, R Herring for Best 67, M Heaney for Herbst 69, F van der Merwe for Stevenson 54, R Wilson for Henry 58
Zebre: H Daniller; D Odiete, G Bisegni, G Garcia, G Toniolatti; K Haimona, B Leonard; A De Marchi, A Manici, D Chistolini; A Ferreira, G Biagi; M Bergamasco, F Cristiano, A Van Schalkwyk.
Replacements: E Padovani for Garcia 52, G Palazzani for Leonard 58, A Lovotti for De Marchi 54, A Manici for Fabiani 47, L Leibson for Chistolini 64, V Bernabo for Ferreira 47, Q Geldenhuys for Biagi 60, S Vunisa for van Schalkwyk 6.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (WRU)
Assistant referees: Peter Fitzgibbon, John Carvill (both IRFU)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (IRFU)