Glasgow Warriors 68
DAVID BARNES @ Scotstoun
AN ideal way to ease back into the swing of things after the disruption of the Six Nations with a gentle session of virtually unopposed rugby against a gaggle of Italians who should each be repaying their employers for the cost of the flight over to Glasgow because they certainly weren’t there to put a shift in. Warriors were excellent – ruthless and efficient – but they really didn’t have to work for this after blowing Zebre away in the first 30 minutes.
Ten tries and a record winning margin means that the Warriors are now guaranteed at least a home quarter-final in the play-offs, and are within one result of finishing top of Pool A, which means a home semi-final.
“It was a hell of a performance up front. We really decimated their scrum and we got a lot of field position off that. Our defensive line-out was really good and we defended their drive well. And we were very clinical regarding the opportunities we got – bar the last 15 minutes, which often happens in a game like that when you get a bit loose as replacements come on and so on,” said Warriors head coach Dave Rennie.
“I thought Adam Hastings controlled the game really well with smart kicking options and pass selection, but there were a lot of big contributors tonight,” he added. “It wasn’t so much about the score tonight, we were looking for a quality performance and for a big chunk of the game we got that. There was a number of guy who made a bit of a statement because we’ve got a handful of international boys to come back in, so we are creating a lot of depth and a lot competition for places.”
“We’ve got four guys who are going to disappear to the Commonwealth Games – Matt Fagerson, George Horne, Ruaridh Jackson and Lee Jones – so that’s a nice note for them to leave on.”
It was a triumphant homecoming for DTH van der Merwe, the club’s record try scorer, who was voted man-of-the-match after crossing the line twice in the first half hour, and he looked to be in for the hat-trick with just under five minutes to go when he found himself in acres of space on the left – but the long, looping pass from Hastings which had put him away was deemed to have strayed forward.
The Canadian had taken seven minutes in his comeback after almost three years away to get on the score sheet, strolling over unchallenged after the Warriors pack had sucked in the Zebre defensive line with a powerful driven line-out and a couple of sharp phases.
The hosts doubled their account five minutes later when Sam Johnson broke from midfield, and tried to work a one-two with Hastings, only for the return pass to fly over the centre’s shoulder. Jackson was on hand to gather instead and he motored under the posts.
The third try was scored from a field position established by some excellent nuts and bolts rugby from the Warriors – with their scrum walking Zebre back ten yards, Hastings’ howitzer kick making 60 yards and van der Merwe charging down the clearance. The Italian’s won their own ball at the line-out but tried to play their way out of trouble and ended up fumbling. Jones hacked through but was taken out by Carlo Canna before he could gather and flop over the line. Referee Craig Evans consulted the TMO but it was never really in doubt that a penalty try would be awarded, with a yellow-card for the Italian stand-off thrown in for good measure.
The bonus point was up in the 26th minute when van de Merwe burst through the middle off a set line-out ploy and dotted down under the sticks.
Zebre seemed to make the curious decision to not fill the gap in midfield left by Canna, and try number five came when Hastings set off from a scrum inside his own half into a wide-open space. The stand-off then timed his pass inside well to give Henry Pyrgos an unchallenged canter home.
Jackson grabbed his second try of the night down the short side of a close-range ruck with two minutes of the half to go, which brought up the big four-zero.
Warriors started the second half as they had finished the first, with Jones scuttling over within 90 second of the restart, but as invariably happens in these one-sided situations the game began to unravel with the dominant side losing their focus.
Canna went over for the Italians to ensure that they avoided the indignity of being grannied, before normal service resumed with Zander Fagerson bulldozing home after a series of thundering one-out drives from his fellow forwards.
Callum Gibbins was making his return to action after three months out with an achilles injury, and he got through an hour with no issues, even getting himself on the scoresheet off the back of powerful line-out drive before trotting off to be replaced by Chris Fusaro.
Lelia Masaga swatted aside a couple of token Italian tackles on his way to scoring to the left of the posts which took the gap to 61 points, surpassing the previous record margin of 60 achieved against the same opposition in a 70-10 win at Scotstoun in April 2016.
There was still 15 minutes to go but the game fizzled out.
Glasgow Warriors: R Jackson (L Masaga 47); L Jones, N Grigg, S Johnson (P Horne 59), D van der Merwe; A Hastings, H Pyrgos (G Horne 71); O Keble (J Bhatti 54), G Turner (G Stewart 57), Z Fagerson (S Halanukonuka 64), T Swinson (K McDonald 64), S Cummings, R Harley, C Gibbins (C Fusaro 57), M Fagerson.
Zebre: E Padovani (54); G di Giulio, S Bordoli, F Afamasaga, G Venditti; C Canna (M Azzolini 59), G Palazzani (V Bernabò 71); C Ah-Nau (A de Marchi 66), O Fabiani (T d’Apice 53), E Bello (R Tenga 59), D Sisi, L Krumov, D Minnie (J Sarto 41), J Meyer, J Tucker.
Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Warriors: Tries: Van der Merwe 2, Jackson 2, Penalty Try, Pyrgos, Jones, Z Fagerson, Gibbins, Masaga; Cons: Hastings 8.
Zebre: Try: Canna; Con: Canna
Scoring sequence (Warriors first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 21-0; 26-0; 28-0; 33-0; 35-0; 40-0 (h-t) 45-0; 47-0; 47-5; 47-7; 52-7; 54-7; 56; 61-7; 66-7; 68-7
Yellow cards –