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Ulster hit back to beat Zebre Parma in thriller

By PA
Dan McFarland /PA

Ulster staged a second-half fightback to beat Zebre Parma 40-36 and get their United Rugby Championship campaign off to a winning start at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.

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Zebre had lost 25 matches in a row and were without a victory since April 2022.

But the Italians showed they are a far more serious proposition this season, sharing 12 tries in a dramatic contest and picking up two bonus points.

A see-saw first half produced seven tries with Ulster wiping out the Zebre lead three times before heading into the break 26-21 down.

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Zebre struck first as number eight Giovanni Licata prospered from a driving line-out maul for Geronimo Prisciantelli to convert.

Jake Flannery replied by crashing over and Nathan Doak added the extras but Zebre were in front again as Licata claimed a second try following Ben Cambriani’s initial break.

Prisciantelli extended the gap to seven points but Kieran Treadwell soon ran an excellent line and Mike Lowry jinked his way over for Doak to convert.

Ulster boasted the best defence in URC competition last season but they were breached for the third time inside 23 minutes.

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Lorenzo Pani powered his way over from close range and Prisciantelli maintained his 100 per record from the tee.

Ulster levelled again when Flannery floated a pass for Jacob Stockdale to score in the corner and Doak converted to make the score 21-21.

Kieran Treadwell was yellow carded five minutes before the break after Ulster were penalised frequently.

Zebre took advantage of their extra men as Ulster ran out of defenders and Prisciantelli’s kick found replacement wide Scott Gregory free to dot down out wide.

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The gap was extended to 10 points just after the break as Simone Gesi punished weak Ulster tackling.

Ulster went to their bench and it yielded instant dividends as Stewart Moore’s superb offload sent in captain Tom Stewart for a try which Doak added to.

There was an hour on the clock when replacement Billy Burns helped Ulster take the lead for the first time.

Burns’ pass stretched the Zebre defence and James Hume allowed Stockdale to dive in to the corner.

A sixth Ulster try, and a second from Stewart, gave the visitors breathing space and appeared to have put the contest to bed.

But Gesi claimed his second try after Zebre had gone through the phases to set up a grandstand finish.

Zebre even had the advantage of an extra man in the final play as replacement prop James French was sent to the sin bin.

But Ulster stole the ball just yards from their own line to deny Zebre victory.

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