A SENSATIONAL JARED PAYNE try broke Zebre’s first-half resistance and contributed massively to Ulster’s 13-6 win at Ravenhill. Payne zipped past three Italians en-route to a game-changing score after the home side had fallen 6-0 behind.
Ulster started Paddy Wallace at inside centre, beside Payne in midfield, for his first league start of the season. The Ireland international, who featured twice for the Ulster Ravens on his comeback from long-term injury, got stuck in from the start and held onto a couple of tricky high balls.
Conditions were horrendous at Ravenhill for the offensively minded Ulster side but both teams were suffering and handling, under duress, was poor. Niall Annett’s lineout throws, however, were on the money in the opening stages.
First blood went to the Italians on four minutes as Luciano Orquera slotted over a penalty after Craig Gilroy held on under a clatter of bodies. He missed another attempt on nine minutes and was hobbling off soon after. Outside centre Tommaso Iannone was tasked with the goal-kicking duties and doubled Zebre’s lead on 15 minutes.
The Ulster pack took the responsibility for getting back in the game but the visitors held firm after five minutes of intense pressure. In the midst of the home side’s drive, Ulster captain Johann Muller was penalised for a stamp at the breakdown but avoided a yellow card.
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It was left to Payne to spark his side and, not for the first time, he delivered. The New Zealander jinked through the Zebre line and evaded three tacklers before touching down. Ruan Pienaar made the simple conversion to edge the home side ahead after 31 minutes. The Italians responded well to the setback and Ulster were forced into some committed defence to hold them at bay.
Mark Anscombe’s men enjoyed more possession and territory after the break. The Ulster bench made a difference, with Tom Court and Rob Herring adding to zing to the home scrums. Zebre battled gamely but two Pienaar penalties stretched the Ulster lead and the closed out the game for the win and four points.
- First published 20:50