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Ulster survive Zebre in 12-try thriller

URC REPORT: Ulster made a winning start to the new United Rugby Championship season edging Zebre 40-36 at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.

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Zebre had lost 25 matches in a row and were without a victory since April 2022.

But the Italians showed they are a far more serious proposition this season, sharing 12 tries in a dramatic contest and picking up two bonus points.

A see-saw first half produced seven tries with Ulster wiping out the Zebre lead three times before heading into the break 26-21 down.

Zebre struck first as number eight Giovanni Licata prospered from a driving line-out maul for Geronimo Prisciantelli to convert.

Jake Flannery replied by crashing over and Nathan Doak added the extras but Zebre were in front again as Licata claimed a second try following Ben Cambriani’s initial break.

Prisciantelli extended the gap to seven points but Kieran Treadwell soon ran an excellent line and Mike Lowry jinked his way over for Doak to convert.

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Ulster boasted the best defence in URC competition last season but they were breached for the third time inside 23 minutes.

Lorenzo Pani powered his way over from close range and Prisciantelli maintained his 100 percent record from the tee.

Ulster levelled again when Flannery floated a pass for Jacob Stockdale to score in the corner and Doak converted to make the score 21-21.

Kieran Treadwell was yellow carded five minutes before the break after Ulster were penalised frequently.

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Zebre took advantage of their extra men as Ulster ran out of defenders and Prisciantelli’s kick found replacement wide Scott Gregory free to dot down out wide.

The gap was extended to 10 points just after the break as Simone Gesi punished weak Ulster tackling.

Ulster went to their bench and it yielded instant dividends as Stewart Moore’s superb offload sent in captain Tom Stewart for a try which Doak added to.

There was an hour on the clock when replacement Billy Burns helped Ulster take the lead for the first time.

Burns’ pass stretched the Zebre defence and James Hume allowed Stockdale to dive in to the corner.

A sixth Ulster try, and a second from Stewart, gave the visitors breathing space and appeared to have put the contest to bed.

But Gesi claimed his second try after Zebre had gone through the phases to set up a grandstand finish.

Zebre even had the advantage of an extra man in the final play as replacement prop James French was sent to the sin bin.

But Ulster stole the ball just yards from their own line to deny Zebre victory.

Player of the Match
Stewart, the Top Try Scorer and Next-Gen Player of the Season for 2022-23, picked up where he left off.

His second-half brace helped Ulster turn round their half-time deficit before surviving a late charge from the hosts.

Play of the match
Zebre’s second try cut right the Ulster defence.

Cambriani made the initial break and the ball was recycled through several pairs of hands as Zebre made ground through the middle of the pitch.

Licata then showed terrific power to apply the finishing touch, dotting down for his second try of the match.

The scorers:

For Zebre:
Tries: Licata 2, Pani, Gregory, Gesi 2
Cons: Prisciantelly 3

For Ulster:
Tries: Flannery, Lowry, Stockdale, Stewart 2, Stockdale
Cons: Doak 5

Yellow cards: Kieran Treadwell (Ulster, 34), James French (Ulster, 79)

Zebre: 15 Lorenzo Pani, 14 Ben Cambriani, 13 Fetuli Paea, 12 Enrico Lucchin, 11 Simone Gesi, 10 Geronimo Prisciantelli, 9 Gonzalo Garcia, 8 Giovanni Licata (captain), 7 Giacomo Ferrari, 6 Guido Volpi, 5 Andrea Zambonin, 4 David Sisi, 3 Juan Pitinari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Paolo Buonfiglio,
Replacements: 16 Giampietro Ribaldi, 17 Muhamed Hasa, 18 Riccardo Genovese, 19 Matteo Canali, 20 Bautista Stavile, 21 Alessandro Fusco, 22 Tiff Eden, 23 Scott Gregory

Ulster: 15 Will Addison, 14 Michael Lowry, 13 James Hume, 12 Angus Curtis, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jake Flannery, 9 Nathan Doak; 8 David McCann, 7 Marcus Rea, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Matty Rea, 3 Greg McGrath, 2 Tom Stewart (captain), 1 Andy Warwick
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Callum Reid,18  James French, 19 Cormac Izuchukwu, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Stewart Moore.

Referee: Adam Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Manuel Bottino (Italy) & Lorenzo Imbriaco (Italy)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)

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