Pro14: Ulster 54-7 Zebre
|Pro14: Ulster v Zebre|
|Ulster (26) 54|
|Tries: Herring 3, Lyttle, Penalty Try, Ludik, Baloucoune, Nelson Cons: Lyttle 6|
|Zebre (7) 7|
|Try: Penalty Try|
Rob Herring scored a first-half hat-trick as Ulster romped to a huge win over a hapless Zebre in Belfast.
The impressive Rob Lyttle secured the bonus point before the interval while Louis Ludik, Robert Baloucoune and Peter Nelson got in on the act.
The visitors, who were unable to compete at the set-piece, did get on the scoreboard through a first-half penalty try.
Ulster remain in a tight battle for a play-off berth in Pro14 Conference B.
With Leinster far ahead of the rest, Ulster are in the middle of a four-team battle for the two remaining qualification spots.
The maximum-point win, Ulster's biggest of the season, was no more than the northern province required from the fixture with tougher tests to come before the end of the season.
Ulster pack make most of set-piece mismatch
The writing was on the wall when flanker James Brown was sent to the sin-bin on 15 minutes for deliberately collapsing an Ulster maul as it rolled towards the line.
From the resulting penalty the hosts went to the corner again and set the maul before driving over the line with Herring touching down.
The feat was repeated twice more with the hooker completing a 31-minute hat-trick.
Ulster were temporarily reduced to 14 men when Ludik was shown yellow for a deliberate knock-on, which also prompted referee Mike Adamson to award a penalty try.
Wing Lyttle, who produced a fine display from the kicking tee converting six of his seven attempts, went over in the left corner to dampen any hopes of a comeback as Dan McFarland's side re-assumed control.
Zebre coach Michael Bradley was forced to bring in four players from Italian club rugby into his squad for the trip to Belfast to bolster his severely depleted side.
In a stop-start second half Bradley's side again were subjected to further pressure in the set-piece and conceded a penalty try for once again collapsing the maul.
Ludik and Baloucoune both finished off moves that will have pleased Ulster head coach Dan McFarland before Nelson, starting at fly-half for the first time this season, added the final try to bring Ulster beyond the half century of points.
Ulster: Ludik; Baloucoune, Cave, McCloskey, Lyttle; Nelson, Shanahan; O'Sullivan, Herring, Moore, O'Connor (capt), Treadwell, Ross, Reidy, Timoney.
Replacements: Andrew, Warwick, Kane, Nagle, Jones, Stewart, McPhillips, Hume.
Sin-bin: Ludik (25)
Zebre: Brummer; Balekana, Bisegni, De Battista, Elliott; Canna, Renton; Bianchi, Brown, Tauyavuca, Biagi (capt), Krumov, Bello, Fabiani, Rimpelli.
Replacements: Luus, Fischetti, Tenga, Masselli, Mordacci, Raffaele, Azzolini, Venditti.
Sin-bin: Brown (15)