Ulster make it six wins on the bounce with a nine-try victory over Conference A basement side Zebre last night.
Marcell Coetzee scored four times to put him three tries clear of Gavin Coombes at the top of the PRO14 try scoring charts. Stewart Moore, Luke Marshall, Ethan McIlroy, Dave Shanahan and Bill Johnston added the remaining tries.
Ulster continued with their quick starts to matches with Coetzee crashing over for the first of his tries after four minutes. Superb ball retention was a feature in the performance all night and Ulster looked like they could score from every attack.
Zebre responded with a fortuitous but well taken try from Pierre Bruno, but Ulster remained composed and stuck to their game plan. Turning down three points has been a feature in the province’s game plan over the last number of years and they did not change tactic last night. On the third attempt, the South African eight emerged from the bottom of the maul with the ball.
Try number three followed not too long after. Michael Lowry chased down his own kick to charge down Antonio Rizzi and allow Stewart Moore the easiest of finishes. Coetzee sealed his hat trick and the try bonus point on 35 minutes and at 26-7, whatever hope Zebre had of getting anything from this game had evaporated.
Zebre’s defence was very passive and made it easy for Ulster to play on the front foot. Jordi Murphy, Moore, Greg Jones, Coetzee and Sam Carter gave Ulster a platform with gainline carries. The forwards made life easy for Alby Mathewson and Bill Johnston at half back and the dominance was evident, as the Zebre heads dropped in the ten minutes before and after half time.
Ulster look more intent in keeping the ball a little longer in the forwards than they did last season. Albeit against stronger opposition than Zebre there were a few occasions where Ulster were too lateral last season and ended up being tackled behind the gainline. It will be a test at whether Ulster can get the same go-forward ball in Europe and against Munster and Leinster when they face them this season.
Bill Johnston and Luke Marshall added tries after the interval before Coetzee became the first Ulster player to score four tries in a competitive match.
Dan McFarland then brought in the reinforcements with Marty Moore, Coetzee, Alan O’Connor, Stewart Moore, John Andrew and Eric O’Sullivan being withdrawn while Andrew Warwick came on to make his first appearance of the season.
Ethan McIlroy scored his first senior try after a lovely pass from Ian Madigan before Dave Shanahan added Ulster’s ninth try of the night in the last play of the game.
Ulster are one of the sides in the league least affected by international call ups, while Zebre were without 21 players due to the Autumn Nations Cup and injury.
The side have scored 30 tries in their six games, only Leinster (34) have scored more. However we can see how Ulster are adapting their play over the last seven seasons as it’s progressively taken less matches to reach this milestone:
While it’s been a positive start to the season, Ulster have must bigger tests to come. They’ve been able to bully sides up front in their victories so far, recording bonus point wins in three of the six matches, but there’s still a lot of rugby to be played and the opposition will get tougher as they regain their internationals.
At the minute all they can do is continue to put in good performances and maintain their 19-point gap on the Ospreys in third place.