An early season Italian double is on the cards for Ulster as they look follow up on their recent 33-13 dismissal of Zebre by posting a similar result in Parma.
GUINNESS PRO12: Saturday, September 27
ZEBRE (11th) v ULSTER (4th), Stadio XXV Aprile, 4pm local time/3pm Irish time (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/Nuvolari TV)
Team News: There are 10 changes to the Ulster team that beat Cardiff Blues for Saturday afternoon’s match against Zebre at the Stadio XXV Aprile.
Craig Gilroy is one of seven Ireland internationals in the side and returns at full-back. He is joined in the back-three by Tommy Bowe, who switches to the right wing, and Michael Allen who starts on the left.
Darren Cave retains his place at outside centre and is joined in midfield by the 2013/14 Hughes Insurance Academy Player of the Year, Stuart McCloskey, who makes his first start of the season.
Paddy Jackson, who scored 14 points in the win over Cardiff, starts at out-half and is partnered at half-back by Michael Heaney.
Up front, there is a whole new front row with Callum Black named at loosehead prop, Rob Herring selected at hooker and Declan Fitzpatrick, who has recovered from injury, starting at tighthead prop.
In the second row, Franco van der Merwe is joined by Neil McComb who starts his first match of the season.
In the back row, Clive Ross, who is an ex-Lansdowne player and a cousin of Mike Ross, starts his first competitive match for the province. He is selected at openside flanker with Roger Wilson captaining the side from blindside and Nick Williams stationed at number 8.
Rory Best, Ruaidhri Murphy, Wiehahn Herbst, Lewis Stevenson and Mike McComish are named on the bench as are backs Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys and Andrew Trimble.
Ulster’s next match is at home to Edinburgh next Friday night (kick-off 7.30pm). Tickets for that game can be purchased by clicking here.
Meanwhile, Zebre head coach Andrea Cavinato has made three changes for the visit of Ulster, the most notable of which sees Leonardo Sarto return from injury on the left wing.
Hooker Andrea Manici, who is making his 30th league appearance, is joined in the front row by props Matias Aguero and Dario Chistolini who take over from the benched Andrea Lovotti and Luciano Leibson respectively.
Fijian-born number 8 Samuel Vunisa anchors the scrum again having scored two tries in Zebre’s back-to-back away games against Ulster and Munster.
ZEBRE: Hendrik Daniller; Giulio Toniolatti, Giulio Bisegni, Kelly Haimona, Leonardo Sarto; Edoardo Padovani, Guglielmo Palazzani; Matias Aguero, Andrea Manici, Dario Chistolini, Quintin Geldenhuys (capt), George Biagi, Mauro Bergamasco, Filippo Cristiano, Samuela Vunisa.
Replacements: Oliviero Fabiani, Andrea Lovotti, Luciano Leibson, Andries Ferreira, Valerio Bernabò, Alberto Chillon, Gonzalo Garcia, Luciano Orquera.
ULSTER: Craig Gilroy; Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Stuart McCIoskey, Michael Allen; Paddy Jackson, Michael Heaney; Callum Black, Rob Herring, Declan Fitzpatrick, Neil McComb, Franco van der Merwe, Roger Wilson (capt), Clive Ross, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Rory Best, Ruaidhri Murphy, Wiehahn Herbst, Lewis Stevenson, Mike McComish, Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys, Andrew Trimble.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini, Stefano Penne (both Italy)
Television Match Official: Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Zebre to win: 4/1; Draw: 25/1; Ulster to win: 1/7
Pre-Match Quotes: Darren Cave (Ulster) – “Getting the minor (shoulder) operation during the summer I knew I would miss the pre-season friendlies, so I was delighted to see some action in the (home) Zebre game, although I lasted only 10 minutes due to rib injury.
“That was disappointing, but, thankfully, I was fit again for last week’s game in Cardiff. I just want to play rugby and put my hand up for selection.
“We studied Zebre’s last five games in Italy, including the tail end of last season, and you will see they have only lost one, to Cardiff in September.
“Obviously there will be a few changes to our side with players being rested, but I still think if we start well and put them under pressure their heads might drop and we’ll get another result.
“With the sheer amount of good players we have in our squad this season, there will be a fair amount of chopping and changing as seen already in the three games to date.”
Top Scorers – 2014/15 GUINNESS PRO12: Zebre – Points: Kelly Haimona 14; Tries: Samuela Vunisa 2; Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 27; Tries: Dan Tuohy 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Sunday, November 18, 2012 – Zebre 25 Ulster 27, Stadio XXV Aprile
Friday, February 15, 2013 – Ulster 26 Zebre 3, Ravenhill
Saturday, November 30, 2013 – Zebre 11 Ulster 19, Stadio XXV Aprile
Friday, December 20, 2013 – Ulster 13 Zebre 6, Ravenhill
Friday, September 12, 2014 – Ulster 33 Zebre 13, Kingspan Stadium
– Zebre have slipped to four straight defeats in the GUINNESS PRO12 since their 30-27 victory at home to the Ospreys in May
– Zebre are yet to defeat an Irish province in their two previous seasons
– Ulster are one of the remaining unbeaten sides in the PRO12 this season having gained victories over Zebre and Cardiff Blues in the last two rounds, added to a draw with the Scarlets in round 1
– The Ulstermen have not been defeated by Italian opposition since Benetton Treviso visited Belfast in October 2011
– Ulster have already beaten Zebre this season, claiming a 33-13 bonus point success at Kingspan Stadium in round 2