Pro12: Zebre 13-6 Ulster
|Zebre (0) 13|
|Pens: Haimona Cons: Haimona Drop Goal: Haimona|
|Ulster (0) 6|
|Pens: Humphreys 2|
Ulster suffered their first defeat of the Pro12 season as Declan Fitzpatrick's red card and a disallowed Darren Cave try helped Zebre earn their first win of the campaign.
Fitzpatrick was sent off for a 10th-minute punch in a scoreless first half.
A Dario Chistolini try helped Zebre lead 7-0 before two Ian Humphreys penalties cut the margin to a point.
Kelly Haimona added six Zebre points with Tommy Bowe harshly ruled to have obstructed before Cave's touchdown.
Haimona's 69th-minute penalty had increased Zebre's lead to 10-6 after a strong scrum by the home side on the edge of the Ulster 22.
However, Ulster appeared to be on the way to snatching a fortunate victory two minutes later as centre Cave burst through the Zebre defence to score under the posts after a clever reverse pass from Craig Gilroy.
But as he had done on several occasions in the stop-start contest. referee Peter Fitzgibbon opted to go upstairs and the television match official's verdict was that Bowe had obstructed Haimona as Humphreys made the initial run before passing to Gilroy.
It looked a highly debatable call as Haimona looked in no position to make a tackle on Humphreys as he was barged into by Bowe.
But TMO Carlo Damasco ruled otherwise and Haimona's superb late drop goal sealed a Zebre win, which on the basis of the play, they probably just about deserved, given the greater enterprise that they had shown.
Ulster included only five of their starters from last weekend's away win over Cardiff and the re-jigged line-up struggled for fluency throughout the contest played in sunny and warm conditions in Parma.
Fitzpatrick's return to action after injury proved a brief affair as his clear punch on Zebre hooker Andrea Manici as a ruck broke up led to his red card after Damasco's video adjudication
Ulster attempted to regroup immediately as a Michael Allen run set up a charging Stuart McCloskey before a spilled pass ended the chance.
A knock-on by Paddy Jackson ended another promising move started by a McCloskey run and the Ulster fly-half was then off target on 30 minutes with a penalty from halfway.
The first half ended with the game still scoreless after a late penalty miss from young Zebre number 10 Edoardo Padovani.
However, the pace picked up after the break as lively Zebre wing Leonardo Sarto was twice denied tries by firstly having a foot in touch and then being held up after he had reached the Ulster line.
But the Ulster line was breached in the 45th minute as replacement Gonzalo Garcia's clever tap-on pass set up prop Chistolini to crash over.
Haimona's conversion extended Zebre's lead but Ulster responded with two quick penalties from Humphreys, who had been introduced for the visitors along with Rory Best.
Another three points from Haimona in the 69th minute extended Zebre's advantage to four before the controversial cancelling out of Cave's touchdown two minutes later.
With Ulster still smarting at the apparent injustice, Haimona's drop goal from 40 metres sealed Zebre's success as late pressure from the visitors came to nothing.
Zebre: H Daniller; G Toniolatti, G Bisegni, K Haimona, L Sarto; E Padovani, G Palazzini; M Aguero, A Manici, D Chistolini; Q Geldenhuys (capt), G Biagi; M Bergamasco, F Cristiano, S Vunisa.
Replacements: G Garcia for Padovani 43, A Lovotti for Aguero 56, O Fabiani for Manici 51, L Leibson for Chistolini 58, A Ferreira for Biagi 66, V Bernabo for Cristiano 27, Orquera for Toniolatti 79
Not Used: A Chillon
Ulster: C Gilroy; T Bowe, D Cave, S McCloskey, M Allen; P Jackson, M Heaney; C Black, R Herring, D Fitzpatrick; N McComb, F van der Merwe; R Wilson (capt), C Ross, N Williams.
Replacements: W Herbst for Ross 13, I Humphreys for Jackson 45, P Marshall for Heaney 63, R Best for Herring 51, L Stevenson for McComb 58, M McComish for Williams 61, A Trimble for McCloskey 68, R Murphy for Black 68