Glasgow Warriors 31
THEY made life hard for themselves at times, but there was plenty to like about the way Warriors went about their business here as they helped themselves to five valuable league points and one invaluable morale boost.
The result lifts Danny Wilson’s men to fourth in the Conference A of the PRO14, ten points behind third placed Ospreys, who they play next Friday night – so the dream of somehow sneaking into next season’s Champions Cup is still alive.
Their head coach was pleased with the result but keen to keep perspective, which is sensible given how tumultuous this season has been so far.
“First half we left three tries out there where we should be away from them, and maybe a slightly more confident Glasgow Warriors would finish those opportunities off and get away from them by half-time, but that wasn’t the case, and all of a sudden our discipline let us down a little bit,” he reflected afterwards.
“We found ourselves playing with 13 men yet again, so we keep giving ourselves plenty of conditioning. But we hung on in there and we won the second half 21-3. So, really, what we set out as a game plan worked. We managed to wear them down enough to put them away when they were a bit more fatigued at the end of the game.”
It was a disappointing first Warriors start for 19-year-old Gregor Brown, who lost his footing as he lined up a tackle on Zebre full-back Michelangelo Biondelli leading to a nasty collision and resulted in both players having to leave the field after five minutes of play. Brown was replaced by Leone Nakarawa, who trundled around the park with slightly more purpose than last week, and managed to win a couple of turnovers with giant bear hugs which prevented his opponent from recycling the ball, but also gave away a cheap penalty early on and is still several notches off the standard we expect from a player of that calibre.
Zebre nosed their way into a sixth minute lead when Paolo Pescetto helped himself to the points after Oli Kebble was penalised for hands in a ruck, but that was quickly cancelled out by Ross Thompson following an equally unnecessary penalty conceded by Zebre for going off their feet.
A second Pescetto shot at goal from wide on the right and 30-odd yards out didn’t have the legs, but it looked like Zebre were taking a stranglehold of the game, until some excellent interplay by the visitors created extra numbers on the left, and Cole Forbes took advantage by sending a clever grubber forward which Thompson ran onto for the try, with the stand-off slotting the tricky conversion for good measure.
A coruscating break up the right touchline by Rufus McLean a few minutes later deserved a try, but Tommaso Boni got across the make the tackle just a few yards short of the line, and Warriors had to make do instead with an offside penalty and a yellow-card Potu Junior Leavasa.
McLean got even closer a few minutes later after Forbes came infield to create the extra man, but this time the winger’s foot was pushed into touch by Guglielmo Palazzani as he dived for the line.
Wilson’s young guns were clearly enjoying themselves, with Sam Johnson and Huw Jones – the geriatric 27-year-olds in the middle of the park – keen to get in on the act, but they couldn’t make it count on the scoreboard, with a couple of knock-ons from D’arcy Rae not helping the cause.
Then just before the break, some fairly anaemic tackling from the visitors, and some good offloading from the hosts, led to two converted tries from Mattia Bellini inside the space of three minutes, with the salt in the wound was the yellow-card shown to Sam Johnson for a dangerous tackle in the lead-up to the first of those scores.
From seven points up and in full control, Wilson’s team found themselves seven points and a man down as they disappeared back to their changing-room to regroup.
There was no respite at the start of the second half, with Warriors coughing up possession at a line-out and then being reduced to 13 men when Ollie Smith was carded for a deliberate knock-on as Zebre tried to open the game up on the left.
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This was now a real test of Warriors’ character and they did well to limit their opponents to a single Pescetto penalty – after an offside – during that 10 period when they were down men.
The arrival of some experience off the bench in the shape of stand-off Ian Keatley for Thompson, and outside-centre Nick Grigg for Smith (with Jones shifting to full-back), brought some valuable impetus just before the hour mark – and it was a powerful surge by Grigg which sent Jamie Dobie in for the Keatley converted try which pulled it back to a three-point game.
Warriors continued to turn the screw, and after a sustained period of pressure inside Zebre’s 22 – which saw the home team reduced to 14 men when Enrico Lucchin was binned – the visitors finally got their reward when Thomas Gordon muscled his team back into the lead, with Keatley converting from right in front of the posts.
Unfortunately, Gordon injured his shoulder in the process of scoring that try, and with Brown also an injury doubt, Wilson could have a tricky time assembling back-row for next weekend’s appointment against the Ospreys.
As was the case midway through the first half, all the momentum was with Warriors as the game moved into the final quarter, but this time they managed to keep the pressure on, and the four-try bonus point was secured when Johnson sent Grigg through a gap in Zebre’s exhausted defence with eight minutes still to go.
“What you’ve seen from us in the last three weeks is far from the finished article, I know that – there’s been some really good stuff and some not-so-good stuff. But ultimately there’s a huge amount of fight in this group of players.
“I think the substitutions were important today,” concluded Wilson. “We got those right at the right time and I think those guys came on and made an impact – the likes of Nick Grigg and so on. And that allowed us to finish the game off.
“It’s five points away from home in a season where we haven’t had many of those. So, we’ll take that, we’ll be pleased with that. We’ve got a short six-day turnaround to play a big home game next week.”
Zebre: M Biondelli (A Rizzi 5); P Bruno, T Boni (G Di Giulio 29), E Lucchin, M Bellini; P Pescetto (N Casilio 65), G Palazzani; D Rimpelli (P Buonfiglio 59), O Fabiani (M Manfredi 40), E Bello (M Nocera 68), S Ortis (M Kearney 59), I Nagle, L Masselli (C Alaimalo 60), P Junior Leavasa, R Giammarioli.
Glasgow Warriors: O Smith (N Grigg 54); R McLean, H Jones, S Johnson, C Forbes; R Thompson (I Keatley 54), J Dobie (S Kennedy 62); O Kebble (D Evans 73), G Stewart , E Pieretto (D Rae 24-35), R Harley, H Bain (J Scott 75), G Brown (L Nakarawa 5), T Gordon (J Matthews 73), R Wilson (c).
Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Zebre: Tries: Bellini 2; Cons: Pescetto 2; Pen: Pescetto 2.
Glasgow Warriors: Try: Thompson, Dobie, Gordon, Grigg; Con: Thompson, Keatley 3; Pen: Thompson
Scoring sequence (Zebre first): 3-0; 3-3; 3-8; 3-10; 8-10; 10-10; 15-10; 17-10 (h-t) 20-10; 20-15; 20-17; 20-22; 20-24; 20-29; 20-31
Yellow cards –
Zebre: Leavasa (28mins), Lucchin (68mins)
Glasgow Warriors: Johnson (37mins), Smith (44 mins)