Ulster and Connacht register Guinness PRO12 wins in terrible conditions
Ulster 19 Treviso 7
ULSTER'S Jared Payne marked his first start for the province since October by scoring a first-half try, but Les Kiss's side failed to claim a bonus point against Treviso in atrocious conditions at the Kingspan Stadium.
Victory earned the hosts a fourth win in a row, but the failure to claim a bonus point saw the province remain in fifth place in the Guinness PRO12.
Ulster, who still have a game in hand on their rivals, also scored tries in the second half through Sean Reidy and Charles Piutau, but Treviso dug in and finished strongly with a try from former Ulster squad member Teofilo Paulo.
A high error count, not helped by the dreadful conditions, denied Ulster the all-important five points.
The first chance fell to the Italians, but Tito Tebaldi was wide with his second-minute penalty and Ulster then had to scramble to stop Tommaso Iannone after the home side were deceived by the bounce of the ball.
Although Ulster then managed to settle, the conditions hardly helped them, with Andrew Trimble losing possession twice and Ruan Pienaar kicking the ball dead from a 14th-minute penalty which he attempted to put into the corner.
But shortly after Kiss' side had marched a scrum into the Treviso 22, they eventually made a few penalties pay after 21 minutes when Stuart Olding's pass put Payne through at the posts. Pienaar landed the conversion.
But the home side failed to score again in the opening half, despite coming close on a number of occasions, their best chance when Marcell Coetzee knocked on near the Treviso line.
The second half was only six minutes old when flanker Francesco Minto was yellow carded for a non-arm tackle, but the 14-man Italians then resisted from a close-in Ulster scrum, with Tebaldi helping win a turnover.
Six minutes later Ulster did work their way across the Treviso line again when, following a scrum, Payne again broke the line before Reidy drove over.
Pienaar's conversion took it to 14-0 and, three minutes later, a great break from Olding ended with Payne knocking on.
Just before the hour, Olding's cross-kick fell nicely for Piutau, who latched on to it and made the corner for Ulster's third score of the night. Pienaar was unsuccessful with the difficult conversion.
Ulster could now sense the bonus point, but Treviso refused to wilt only a last-ditch tackle from replacement Peter Browne prevented Romulo Acosta dotting down from a close-in drive.
And Treviso did get their try when former Ulster player Paulo dived over in the 70th minute. Ian McKinley converted and that score took all the momentum away from the home side.
Connacht 33 Zebre 3
CONNACHT made it four Guinness PRO12 wins in a row with a 33-3 bonus point dismissal of Zebre at a very muddy Sportsground.
The cold, wet and windy conditions made a mess of general play, but a couple of well-taken tries from Niyi Adeolokun (seven) and Naulia Dawai (25) had Connacht 12-0 ahead at half-time.
Guglielmo Palazzani's penalty kickstarted a strong third quarter from Zebre, before the westerners wrestled back control with a John Muldoon effort, a 65th-minute penalty try and a closing seven-pointer from Lewis Stevenson. Pat Lam's men have moved above Cardiff Blues into seventh place in the table.
Debutant fly-half Steve Crosbie provided the scoring pass for Adeolokun's opener, the winger successfully driving through Tommaso Boni's attempted tackle to make the line.
John Cooney's curling conversion was followed by a stop-start spell, the visitors unable to threaten from a static scrum and a couple of clever kicks from Cooney and Bundee Aki seeing Connacht win the territory battle.
The province's returnees Eoghan Masterson and Andrew Browne were both effective in their carrying and clearing out, and the former's charge-down of Palazzani almost led to a try - man-of-the-match Eoin McKeon's score was ruled out by TMO Jon Mason for a 'pull-back' on the Zebre scrum half.
However, just two minutes later, a quickly-taken lineout saw the ball shifted across the field to Fijian flanker Dawai who unlocked the defence with a snappy step and nice turn of pace to crash over in the left corner.
Zebre failed to score via a five-metre lineout and a subsequent scrum - number 8 Federico Ruzza infringed on his way to the whitewash – and Connacht's late onslaught before the break, during which Zebre captain Valerio Bernabo was sin-binned for a push at a lineout, also had no reward.
The 14-man Italians opened the second half's scoring with a close range Palazzani place-kick, however he had a poor miss three minutes later from in front of the posts.
In falling off tackles and dropping passes, Connacht were allowing Zebre to dictate. Their replacement prop Bartholomeus le Roux was unfortunate to lose control of the ball as he reached for the try-line in the 53rd minute.
Lam's men took up the baton again on the hour mark, regular captain Muldoon and Kieran Marmion having the desired impact off the bench with Marmion's excellent long range break seeing him hoover up the metres.
Zebre were caught offside in front of their posts and a quick tap saw Muldoon go over for O'Halloran to convert. The hosts had the bit between their teeth and when Zebre pulled down an advancing maul, referee Marius Mitrea reacted by awarding a penalty try which Jack Carty converted.
The Championship's bottom side leaked a fifth score five minutes from the end. Craig Ronaldson provided the impetus with another quick tap and second row Stevenson bulldozed over to the right of the posts.