Match Preview: Zebre vs. Ulster Rugby

Tommy Bowe

Tommy Bowe makes his long awaited return from injury on the wing

Alright, we are back on track.

The Connacht match could have been a banana skin if we weren’t careful so to pick up the win and deny them a bonus point even when we weren’t firing on all cylinders is a vital result for us. Combined with the Scarlets’ surprise home defeat to the Cardiff Blues and Leinster squeaking home against Munster, it puts us in a great position to launch an assault on the top four and hopefully snatch a semi-final spot from one them – more than likely the Scarlets if anyone.

This week is the one game of our last five (including our games against Glasgow and Connacht) that you really thought was our gimme week in the middle of four huge matches. As usual, Zebre are battling it out at the bottom of the table with neighbours Treviso for the final Champions’ Cup spot, only for once it is the Parma men who have the advantage heading into the latter stages of the season.

It makes them dangerous – they are in the driving seat for the first time regarding their qualification and they will be desperate not to give that up, both in terms of attracting players to the club and in terms of the finances it will grant them. Their 2016 form has been very poor, however that won’t concern or distract from their goal of wrapping up that Italian place next season.

Our record in Parma isn’t fantastic either. Alright, we’ve only lost there once (which is one too many), but our record of picking up the bonus point away to Zebre is very poor. We can take solace in the fact that we have our strongest team available to us which should give us enough to pick up all five points over there but let’s not take anything for granted. The memory of last season’s disaster is still fresh in our minds.

But as I said, this is probably the strongest team we’ve had available to us for a while. A certain winger makes his long-awaited return and his presence will be a boost to our team, while we get to see Stuart Olding strut his stuff at inside centre instead of full-back in a full strength line-up. You would like to hope that the 23 we’ve selected has the talent and motivation to pick up all five points – five we desperately need.

If we cannot find it within us to score four tries in Italy at this stage of the season then we need to be asking serious questions. It would not be the death of our top four hopes if we didn’t get a bonus point this weekend, but it certainly wouldn’t help. We’re already relying on other results going our way to make it back into the top four, we have to ensure we’re doing everything we can too.

No excuses. They will be dangerous, but this has to be a bonus point win and we know it. Connacht have gone there and picked up five points. As have Leinster. And Glasgow. All teams who are rightfully in the top four. They have their threats about the park but we know that this has to be a game we take by the scruff of the neck and dominate.

It’s what the best teams do.

The stats

Our hosts are without a win in three months – they haven’t been successful since the 3rd January when they defeated Treviso 18-8 at the Stadio di Monigo.

Zebre have only won once against Irish opposition – last season when they defeated us in Parma after Declan Fitzpatrick’s red card. Our last four games have all been won by the home side on the day and our only away win in 2016 so far was at Treviso back in January.

We have met on seven occasions with that 13-6 win last season Zebre’s only triumph.

The teams

Four changes for Zebre as they look to pick up their first win since January. Italian centre Gonzalo Garcia is ruled out so he is replaced in the centre by Giulio Bisegni while in the front row Pietro Ceccarelli is preferred to Dario Chistolini at tighthead prop. Valerio Bernabo comes in for Marco Bortolami in the second row while the final change sees Jean Cook replace Emiliano Caffini at openside flanker.

Just three changes for Ulster but there is big news with Tommy Bowe making his first start of the season on his return from injury – he is brought onto the wing for Andrew Trimble who is ruled out with an illness. Stuart Olding replaces the injured Stuart McCloskey in the centre while the final change sees Sean Reidy given the start at openside flanker ahead of Chris Henry.

 

Zebre vs. Ulster Rugby

Saturday 16th April, 16:00 (17:00 local)

Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi

Guinness PRO12 – Round 20

 

Live on BBC2 Northern Ireland and RAI Sport

 

ZEBRE RUGBY

15. Kayle van Zyl, 14. Dion Berryman, 13. Giulio Bisegni, 12. Matteo Pratichetti, 11. Leonardo Sarto, 10. Carlo Canna, 9. Guglielmo Palazzani; 1. Andrea Lovotti, 2. Oliviero Fabiani, 3. Pietro Ceccarelli, 4. Quintin Geldenhuys (capt.), 5. Valerio Bernabo, 6. Jean Cook, 7. Federico Ruzza, 8. Gideon Koegelenberg.

Replacements: 16. Bruno Postiglioni, 17. Andrea de Marchi, 18. Dario Chistolini, 19. Marco Bortolami, 20. Emiliano Caffini, 21. Luke Burgess, 22. Ulrich Beyers, 23. Tommaso Boni.

ULSTER RUGBY

15. Jared Payne, 14. Tommy Bowe, 13. Luke Marshall, 12. Stuart Olding, 11. Craig Gilroy, 10. Paddy Jackson, 9. Ruan Pienaar; 1. Callum Black, 2. Rory Best (capt.), 3. Ricky Lutton, 4. Pete Browne, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 6. Iain Henderson, 7. Sean Reidy, 8. Roger Wilson.

Replacements: 16. Rob Herring, 17. Kyle McCall, 18. Andy Warwick, 19. Robbie Diack, 20. Chris Henry, 21. Paul Marshall, 22. Darren Cave, 23. Rory Scholes.

 

Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 133rd competition game)

Assistant Referees: Claudio Blessano, Andrea Spadoni (both FIR)

Citing Commissioner: Francesco Grillo (FIR)

TMO: Carlo Damasco (FIR)