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Ulster close on top four with Zebre win

Jacob Stockdale scored his seventh Guinness PRO12 try of the season as Ulster edged closer to the top four with a 40-17 victory over Zebre at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.

Ulster had leapfrogged Glasgow Warriors into fifth place with a powerful 37-17 win at Kingspan Stadium and they started in much the same vein on Italian soil.

Chris Henry went over from a driving maul before the exhilarating pair of Stockdale and Charles Piutau sent Ruan Pienaar flying over for a 14-0 lead in as many minutes.

But Guglielmo Palazzani stepped up to the plate with a converted try and a penalty to take Zebre within four points at the turn, though Stuart Olding’s try five minutes into the second period swung momentum back in Ulster’s favour.

Mattia Bellini pulled another try back but after Jared Payne, who damaged his kidney in Ireland’s 27-24 win over Australia in the autumn, made his return just after the hour Robbie Diack barged over thanks to some more Piutau magic.

Academy player David Busby scored a sixth right at the death as Ulster moved within five of fourth-place Scarlets with a game in hand.

Henry powered over from a maul after seven minutes as Ulster made the perfect start at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, with Pienaar picking up where he left off against Glasgow with an immaculate touchline conversion.

Stockdale and Piutau combined seven minutes later to send Pienaar over for another fine try, Stockdale finding the All Black with a lovely offload to send him haring away and shifting the ball to the Springbok scrum-half to cross.

Pienaar was again on-target from the tee, but Zebre found the perfect reply through Palazzani, the 25-year-old crossing three minutes later before converting his own try to pull them in touch at 14-7.

And it was Palazzani who struck again from the tee just before half-time to pull the hosts right back into contention at 14-10.

Ulster though, repeated their lightning start of the first period, Olding barrelling over within five minutes and Pienaar adding the extras as Kiss’ men accelerated.

Stockdale – who is Ulster’s top try-scorer following his two-try performance against Glasgow – opted for a plum line off Pienaar to bust over, with the Springbok converting for a 28-10 lead.

Undimmed by Ulster’s two-try salvo, Zebre hit back with superbly taken Bellini try, with Palazzani adding the extras to take edge them closer at 28-17.

Piutau’s sensational footwork set up Diack for a fifth Ulster try with ten minutes, Pienaar continuing his exemplary kicking form with a fifth successful conversion before Busby added further gloss late on.

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €30 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/fi

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