Glasgow Warriors 50
DAVID BARNES @ Scotstoun Stadium
BEAUTY is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to rugby matches like this and Warriors head coach Franco Smith was in no doubt that there was a lot to like about the way his team negotiated their way past a potential banana skin to secure a bonus-point win which keeps them very much on track for a home draw in the URC’s end-of-season play-offs.
“That’s the beauty of it! We can play in different ways,” beamed Smith afterwards, when it was put to him that this was not a vintage Warriors performance. “We treated a very difficult team on its merits. Yes, I agree we didn’t play in the style that everyone expects, and as coaches we were even a little bit frustrated. But we know from watching Zebre that they are always a big threat in the second part of games.
“Ospreys and Connacht recently got too liberal in the second part of games against Zebre and [discovered that] they catch up and it ends up as a tight match, and I don’t think anybody would have wanted that, so we decided to play them in a certain way, get the win, and I think we proved in the last 20 minutes our willingness to play with the ball in hand.
“We didn’t want to make errors. We wanted to squeeze the game until we got the win and the five points, so to end up scoring 50 points was satisfying.”
“People prepping for us now know we can make it tight,” he continued, “You must also remember that we are a little bit disjointed because we have a lot of players out, we’ve travelled to South Africa and came back at the start of the week so this game had only two days of prep. We’re using the full squad and it’s in the midst of the Six Nations.
“We’re definitely not changing our DNA, and we’re not going away from what we want do, but we are proving to ourselves that we can play in a different way when required.”
Home hooker Johnny Matthews was named man-of-the-match after scoring a hat-trick and setting up a JP du Preez try which meant the bonus point was in the bag by half-time. He clearly likes playing against Zebre because he has a remarkable record of eight tries from three games against the Italians.
“I’m glad for him,” said Smith. “He’s at the back of that maul and everyone in front of him is working really hard but he’s still got to finish it off. He’s competing with two internationals in that role and he’s proving he’s growing every week.”
Zebre have yet to taste victory in the URC this season but they are no mugs, and they certainly took the game to Glasgow early on, racing into a 5-0 lead inside two minutes thanks to a try from a quick tap-penalty scored by scrum-half Chris Cook.
Tiff Eden missed the touchline conversion and the hosts struck back through Matthews, who grounded the ball from the back of a line-out maul which had rumbled 20-yards to the line, with George Horne adding the extras to edge Warriors into a two-point lead with 11 minutes played.
Zebre were in no mood to roll over at this stage, however, and it took some desperate cover defence from Sam Johnson and Ollie Smith to squeeze Luca Andreani into touch just a yard short of the line.
As the half wore on, Warriors became more and more dominant, without producing the rhythm and precision which had characterised their performances during their 10-match unbeaten streak leading into last weekend’s away loss to Lions, and they fell behind again when a side-entry on halfway allowed Jacopo Trulla to kick a 45-yard penalty.
When things aren’t quite clicking, good teams figure out what is working and focus on doing that well, which is what Warriors did here, sending a penalty to the corner and once again relying on their line-out maul for Matthews to claim his second try of the night.
Warriors struck again on the half hour mark when Matthews latched onto a loose Zebre line-out then fed du Preez, with the giant South African swatting aside two tacklers on his way to the line.
Warriors finished the half camped on the Zebre line, and the pressure eventually paid off when that man Matthews claimed his hat-trick in almost identical fashion to his first two scores – from the back of a line-out maul. Having missed two out of his three previous conversion attempts, Horne nailed the conversion to make it 24-8 at the turnaround.
Warriors started the second half in determined fashion, and they got their reward when Scott Cummings charged down Ratko Jelic’s box-kick clearance, Rory Darge collected the loose ball, Horne added the forward momentum, and Stafford McDowall finished off in barnstorming style.
Zebre were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes when replacement hooker Marco Manfredi was yellow-carded for going off his feet over the tackles man, and Warriors struck again when slick hands from a scrum sent Josh McKay home unchallenged.
There was two late flourishes from Warriors. The first featured Sione Vailanu bursting through the middle then sending Tom Gordon under the posts with eight minutes to go. The second involved replacement hooker Fraser Brown scrambling home in the final play to bring up the half century.
Glasgow Warriors: O Smith; C Forbes, S McDowall, S Johnson, J McKay (G Brown 78); T Jordan (D Weir 55), G Horne (J Dobie 66); A Dell (J Bhatti 49), J Matthews (F Brown 49), S Berghan (O Kebble 54), L Bean (T Gordon 54), J Du Preez, S Cummings, R Darge (A Samuel 66), S Vailanu.
Zebre Parma: R Kriel; J Trulla, T Boni, E Lucchin (D Mazza 41), S Gesi; T Eden (G Prisciantelli 62), C Cook (R Jelic 26); P Buonfiglio (L Rizzoli 47), G Ribaldi (M Manfredi 47), M Nocera (I Neculai 47-63), L Krumov (J Uys, 60), A Zambonin, L Andreani (G Licata 54), M Kvesic, D Ruggeri (G Ribaldi 56-66).
Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU)
Glasgow Warriors: Tries: Matthews 3, Du Preez, McDowall, McKay, Gordon Brown; Con: Horne 4, Weir.
Zebre: Tries: Cook; Pen: Trulla.
Scoring sequence (Glasgow first): 0-5; 5-5; 7-5; 7-8; 12-8; 17-8; 22-8; 24-8 (h-t) 29-8; 31-8; 36-8; 38-8; 43-8; 45-8; 50-8.
Yellow cards –
Zebre: Manfreedi (54mins)