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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Zebre v Ulster

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Zebre v Ulster

Ulster launch into a run of four successive matches against Italian opposition, beginning with this weekend’s trip to Parma to take on second-from-bottom Zebre in the RaboDirect PRO12.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, November 30

ZEBRE (11th) v ULSTER (5th), Stadio XXV Aprile, 3pm local time/2pm Irish time (live Sport Mediaset/RTÉ Two/BBC Sport NI website)

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Team News: Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe has made six personnel changes and one positional switch for Saturday afternoon’s encounter with Zebre in Parma.

Ricky Andrew, who scored a try against Zebre at Ravenhill last season, starts at full-back in place of Craig Gilroy who moves to the left wing.

Andrew Trimble continues on the right wing, with fellow Ireland internationals Darren Cave and Luke Marshall keeping their places in midfield.

Ireland out-half Paddy Jackson returns to the Ulster starting line-up and is partnered by Paul Marshall at half-back.

Up front, Tom Court is selected at loosehead prop with Callum Black moving to the bench. Rob Herring and All Black prop John Afoa are retained in the front row.

With injuries to both Lewis Stevenson (medial ligament) and Iain Henderson (hamstring), there is a new second row with Neil McComb joining forces with Dan Tuohy.

Robbie Diack captains the province for the second time from blindside flanker with Mike McComish named at openside and Roger Wilson starting at number 8.

Tommy Bowe and Ruan Pienaar are being rested for the round 9 match following their involvement in the autumn internationals. Saturday’s game is live on RTÉ Two and the BBC Sport NI website.

Meanwhile, Zebre have been boosted by the return of a number of Italian internationals following the completion of the Azzurri’s autumn campaign.

Head coach Andrea Cavinato has recalled eight of the nine players who were away on international duty, with the back-line including only two players who started last time out against the Ospreys – centre Gonzalo Garcia and scrum half Brendon Leonard.

There is a new back-three of Ruggero Trevisan and Italy duo Leonardo Sarto and Giovanbattista Venditti, with Fijian Kameli Ratuvou combining with Garcia in the centre and Tommaso Iannone – fresh from playing against Australia, Fiji and Argentina – joining Leonard at half-back.

Tommaso D’Apice will make his first PRO12 start for Zebre in a front row which includes former Munster prop David Ryan, while Marco Bortolami captains the side from lock and number 8 Samuela Vunisa, a try scorer in Swansea last weekend, will have Mauro Bergamasco and Nicola Cattina for company in the back row.

ZEBRE: Ruggero Trevisan; Leonardo Sarto, Kameli Ratuvou, Gonzalo Garcia, Giovanbattista Venditti; Tommaso Iannone, Brendon Leonard; Matias Aguero, Tommaso D’Apice, David Ryan, Quintin Geldenhuys, Marco Bortolami (capt), Mauro Bergamasco, Nicola Cattina, Samuela Vunisa.

Replacements: Andrea Manici, Salvatore Perugini, Luciano Leibson, Emiliano Caffini, Filippo Cristiano, Alberto Chillon, Luciano Orquera, Roberto Quartaroli.

ULSTER: Ricky Andrew; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Rob Herring, John Afoa, Neil McComb, Dan Tuohy, Robbie Diack (capt), Mike McComish, Roger Wilson.

Replacements: Niall Annett, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Conor Joyce, Sean Doyle, Michael Heaney, James McKinney, Michael Allen.

Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Stefano Penne, Stefano Roscini (both Italy)
Television Match Official: Carlo Damasco (Italy)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Zebre to win: 7/2; Draw: 25/1; Ulster to win: 1/7

Pre-Match Quotes: Jonny Bell (Ulster) – “Paddy (Jackson) and Declan (Fitzpatrick) will be involved in some capacity. Looking at the matches coming in the next few weeks they need game-time.

“They’re excited and ready to get back into it. Ruan (Pienaar) is back in the country having been away with the Springboks and he’ll be coming in towards the end of the week.

“We just wanted to give him a little bit of time out to refresh and get himself ready before playing.

“Zebre will be a real challenge. Gone are the days when you went to Italy pretty confident that you’d get the points. They scored four tries against us over there last season and really ought to have won.

“It is going to be a tough four weeks and we are starting off against a Zebre side which kind of defies their position in the league and have done for the last two years. Neither them or Treviso are the whipping boys of Europe.

“They ask a lot of questions of you defensively, both physically and in their movement. You underestimate them at your peril.”

Robbie Diack (Ulster) – “I was really excited with the way the guys played (against Edinburgh) and I was really pleased to get the win.

“I had captained my school side by in 2003 and I captained the Ravens once a couple of years ago but that is about it, so to get the opportunity (to captain Ulster) was fantastic and it is something that I will never forget especially being at home in front of a sell-out crowd at Ravenhill.

“I think with the crowd of players around you just trust everyone does their roles and I think it gave me a little bit of added pressure and I felt more responsibility.

“I felt like I had to lead by example. I would say I’m a man of few words, but I just wanted to prove that I could do the job.

“There is more pressure as captain, there are more calls on the field and which play to use when. There are a few certain key moments in the game where you have to make decisions, in these games you have got players with such great leadership skills.

“You have John Afoa, Dan Tuohy, Darren Cave and Andrew Trimble for example, so there is a huge amount of experience there that I can feed off.”

Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Zebre – Points: Luciano Orquera 67; Tries: Leonardo Sarto 3; Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 62; Tries: Michael Allen 3


Sunday, November 18, 2012 – Zebre 25 Ulster 27, Stadio XXV Aprile
Friday, February 15, 2013 – Ulster 26 Zebre 3, Ravenhill


– Zebre are without a win in their last five RaboDirect PRO12 matches but did draw 16-all at home to the Scarlets in round 6

– Zebre have lost all ten previous matches they have played against Irish provinces, earning just three losing bonus points and one try-scoring bonus points from those encounters

– Ulster’s only loss in their last eight matches in all competitions was 17-9 at the Scarlets in round 7 of the PRO12

– The Ulstermen have lost only once to Italian opposition in any competition: 23-12 at home to Benetton Treviso in the PRO12 in October 2011

– The two sides have met on two previous occasions, Ulster winning narrowly in Parma last November and more easily in Belfast in February