Preview: Ulster v Zebre

Date published: March 10 2017

Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss has made five changes to his starting XV for Saturday’s PRO12 clash with Zebre at Kingspan Stadium.

Luke Marshall and Jacob Stockdale, both replacements in last Friday’s win over Treviso, will form an all-new midfield partnership. Meanwhile, Al O’Connor, Robbie Diack and Chris Henry are included as new faces in the pack.

Stuart Olding, who impressed against Treviso after switching to fly-half late on, will start in the 10 jersey outside Ruan Pienaar. Jared Payne has overcome a niggle and will line out at full-back, with Craig Gilroy and Charles Piutau set to join him in the back three.

The match will be Stockdale’s first start at outside centre, while Marshall will shift to inside centre after playing most of his rugby this season in the 13 jersey.

The front row is unchanged as props Callum Black and Wiehahn Herbst, earning his 50th cap, will start either side of captain Rob Herring. Kieran Treadwell will partner O’Connor in the engine room, while Marcell Coetzee will pack down at number 8 alongside Diack and Henry in the back row.

Rodney Ah You has recovered from injury and is named among the replacements with fellow forwards John Andrew, Andy Warwick, Franco van der Merwe and Clive Ross, who could also make his 50th Ulster appearance.

Backline players Paul Marshall, Pete Nelson and David Busby, who made his debut against the same opposition a fortnight ago, will offer strong impact options off the bench.

Meanwhile, Zebre have made just three changes to their run-on side after last weekend’s defeat against Connacht in Galway.

In the back-line, there is one alteration with Carlo Engelbrecht coming into the starting line-up in place of Guglielmo Palazzani who has been relegated to the bench.

In the forwards, there are two changes to the front row with Bartholomeus Le Roux and  Andrea De Marchi preferred to Dario Chistolini and Bruno Postiglioni as the starting props.

Form: This game was postponed from 25 November due to a frozen pitch. Ulster have won their last four matches with their most recent defeat in the PRO12 being on a trip to the Scarlets on 6 January. The Ulstermen’s only defeat in their last eleven Championship matches in Belfast was by the narrowest of margins to Munster in Round 7 this season. Zebre’s most recent victory was 19-14 over Edinburgh at Murrayfield in Round 7 of the PRO12. Zebre have never won in 22 previous visits to an Irish province in all competitions. The two sides have met on nine previous occasions with Zebra’s only victory being 13-6 in Parma in September 2014.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Jacob Stockdale, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Stuart,  9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Allan O’Connor, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring (c), 1 Callum Black
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Rodney Ah You , 19 Franco van der Merwe, 20 Clive Ross, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Pete Nelson, 23 David Busby

Zebre: 15 Dion Berryman, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Lloyd Greeff, 10 Serafin Bordoli, 9 Carlo Engelbrecht, 8 Federico Ruzza, 7 Gideon Koegelenberg, 6 Matteo Cornelli, 5 Valerio Bernabò, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys (c), 3 Bartholomeus Le Roux, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Andrea De Marchi
Replacements: 16 Luigi Ferraro, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Guillermo Roan, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Julien Nibert, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Matteo Pratichetti, 23 Malou Mornas

Date: Saturday, March 11
Venue: Kingspan Stadium
Kick-off: 18:05 GMT
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Aled Evans (Wales), Dermot Blake (Ireland)
TMO: Neil Hennessy (Wales)