Ulster look to end their PRO12 losing streak against Zebre
Guinness PRO12: Ulster v Zebre
(Friday, Kingspan Stadium, live on BBC2)
MORE than 15,000 tickets have been sold as Ulster look to bounce back from three successive league defeats, including a home loss to Munster last time out, with a win against struggling Zebre on Friday.
The omens are good for Les Kiss’s side. The Italians have beaten Ulster just once before - a 13-6 success in Parma back in 2014 - and have won have won only once in seven outings this season.
They’ve never won a game in Ireland, so Ulster are deserving favourites to secure a victory that could move them into the play-off places - a bonus point could see them climb to as high as third.
Ulster welcome back Louis Ludik, who’ll wear the 13 jersey, while Ireland backs Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy have rejoined the squad after international duty. Chris Henry, who will earn his 151st Ulster cap, is named in a combative back row alongside Clive Ross and number eight Sean Reidy.
The visitors are without 12 internationals who are with the Italian national team ahead of Saturday’s match against Tonga in Padua and Tommaso Castello will lead the team for the first time after being named at inside centre.
Italy scrum-half Guglielmo Palazzani is looking to force his way back into Conor O’Shea’s plans with the Azzurri but should have his hands full in Belfast. He will be going up against Springbok legend Ruan Pienaar who should provide plenty of experience alongside young half-back partner Brett Herron.
Ulster skipper Rob Herring knows that victory is essential if Ulster want to get back in contention for the play-offs after their recent losing streak.
“We have to be better and get momentum for the rest of the season because we can’t keep going like this,” he said.
“We want to achieve great things this season. We want to win silverware. We know the last four or five weeks won’t cut the mustard.”