Glasgow Warriors 56
STUART BATHGATE @ Scotstoun
GLASGOW Warriors needed a bonus-point victory to give their PRO14 play-off prospects a boost, and they got there all right eventually as they ran in eight tries in an entertaining performance. But they were profligate at times as well as prolific, and it was only after a stern half-time address by head coach Dave Rennie that they really got into top gear, having thrown away a 14-point lead in a patchy first-half performance.
It was obvious from an early two-try burst by the Warriors that they had the winning of the game provided they continued to apply themselves. Failure to do that was the main reason the outcome was in the balance for the first 50 minutes or so, even if Zebre had to be commended for their enthusiasm and refusal to lie down.
After falling behind briefly, Glasgow went back ahead just before the break in what turned out to be a crucial moment in the game. It took them around 10 minutes after the restart to ram home their dominance, but once they scored again the issue was no longer in doubt.
“We started the way we wanted,” Rennie said. “But then we got loose for 25 minutes, didn’t kick when it was on to kick – it was like we felt the breeze was too tough to kick into,” he said.
“We made a couple of errors and put ourselves under pressure and let in a couple of soft tries. We were frustrated at half-time but we got the response we wanted. We played a bit of territory and were pretty clinical when we got opportunities.”
Both teams were without a host of internationals, with hooker Luca Bigi and stand-off Carlo Canna among the significant omissions from the Zebre squad. Glasgow had to cope with the absence of backs Scott Johnson, Huw Jones, Ali Price and Adam Hastings along with Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson and Scott Cummings from their pack, while Kiwi openside Callum Gibbins was also out because of suspension.
The home team were certainly not thrown off their stride by the loss of so many key players, and made their intentions clear straight from kick-off by running everything they could. The approach paid dividends for the first time after just six minutes, with George Horne opening the scoring after a show and go by Nick Grigg had created the chance. George’s brother Pete converted.
A few minutes later and it was two full scores. Grigg was again involved in the build-up, and this time it was Matt Fagerson who finished the move, brushing off a couple of would-be tacklers to dot down.
But if those two scores suggested the whole game was going to become a turkey shoot, the Italians had other ideas. If anything Glasgow were playing too loose, especially deep in their own half, and when one over-adventurous pass gave possession away, Zebre eventually won a penalty deep inside the home 22.
They opted for a scrum, and a short-side move saw stand-off Michelangelo Biondelli held up by Grigg and Pete Horne among others. That meant Zebre got another scrum five, then a free-kick followed, and finally loosehead prop Daniele Rimpeli clearly succeeded in grounding.
Biondelli’s conversion made it 14-7, and the score encouraged Zebre to believe that, as long as the game stayed so unstructured, they could give as good as they were getting. They pinned the Warriors back for a while as they went in search of a second try, but in the end had to be content with a penalty, scored by Biondelli.
With Leone Nakarawa orchestrating some of the attacks on his second home debut and props Aki Seiuli and Oli Kebble enjoying the fray in the open, Glasgow patently had superior power as well as greater inventiveness. But in the closing stages of the first half they failed to impose the structure they needed if they were going to make those qualities pay off again, and far too many mistakes crept into their game.
An injury to Biondelli momentarily disrupted Zebre’s flow, as he was replaced by scrum-half Marcello Violi, with Josh Renton moving to 10. But five minutes before the break they grabbed their second, with full-back Junior Laloifi breaking through the defensive line and giving substitute Violi a slightly forward-looking scoring pass. Violi converted his own try, and from 14-0 down Zebre were 17-14 up.
That, finally, was enough to awaken Glasgow from their slumbers, and barely 60 seconds later they were back in front, as a penalty to touch was mauled, then George Horne finished off after George Turner was stopped short. Pete Horne added the two points to put the home side four points ahead at the break.
Playing with a strengthening wind at their backs in the second half, Glasgow laboured initially as they went in search of the bonus-point try. But eventually a magnificent offload from Nakarawa produced the score for fellow-Fijian Mesu Dolokoto, who had come on for his debut just minutes earlier.
The tension eased, the Warriors took no time to extend their lead, with a Pete Horne cross-kick going straight to DTH van der Merwe. Horne again converted, and a match that had looked nervy was in the bag at 35-17.
George Horne was then denied his hat-trick, but only by a penalty try as Laloifi was yellow-carded for high-tackling him into touch a couple of metres out. The score and the card took more sting out of the game, but with time running out Thomas Gordon got the seventh try, converted by Ruaridh Jackson. Pierre Bruno thought he had got the last word for the visitors with their third try, but two minutes from time Dolokoto got up in support of Stafford McDowall to grab his second try.
Glasgow Warriors: G Bryce; T Seymour, N Grigg, S McDowall, D van der Merwe (K Steyn 68); P Horne (R Jackson 68), G Horne (J Dobie 56); A Seiuli (A Allan 66), G Turner (M Dolokoto 43 temp rep), O Kebble (A Nicol 63), R Harley (T Swinson 59), L Nakarawa, R Wilson (captain), T Gordon, M Fagerson (C Fusaro 59).
Zebre: J Laloifi; P Balekana, J Elliott, T Boni, P Bruno; M Biondelli (M Violi 32), J Renton; D Rimpelli (R Brugnara 55), M Ceciliani (O Fabiani 55), E Bello (A Tarus 55), I Nagle (G Biagi 52), M Kearney (L Krumov 66), M Mbanda, A Tauyavuca (J Tuivaiti 48), R Giammarioli.
Referee: J Neville (Ireland).
Scorers: Glasgow: Tries: G Horne 2, Fagerson, Dolokoto 2, Van der Merwe, penalty try, Gordon. Cons: P Horne 5, Jackson 2.
Zebre: Tries: Rimpelli, Violi, Bruno. Cons: Biondelli, Violi 2. Pen: Biondelli.
Scoring sequence (Glasgow first): 5-0, 7-0, 12-0, 14-0, 14-5, 14-7, 14-10, 14-15, 14-17, 19-17, 21-17 half-time, 26-17, 28-18, 33-17, 35-17, 42-17, 47-17, 49-17, 49-22, 49-24, 54-24, 56-24.
Yellow cards: Laloifi (Zebre) 55.