GLASGOW saved their best till last. After struggling to string together their fluid attacking game for much of the season, the Warriors unleashed an avalanche of scoring upon Zebre last night at Scotstoun, running in a total of eight tries, six of which came in the first half hour, the first of them after just 50 seconds.
Scorers: Glasgow: Tries: Hogg (2), Grant, Kellock, Dunbar, Matawalu, Cross, Matawalu. Cons: Weir (6), Jackson. Pens: Name 2. Zebre: Tries: Name, Name, Name. Cons: Name 3. Pens: Name 2.
Gregor Townsend’s troops have endured tougher games of touch rugby.
At times Glasgow were sublime, a combination of limitless ambition and silky skills in perfect harmony, yet Zebre deserve an “assist” of sorts since only their utter inability to fulfil even the most basic requirements of professional rugby players made the tsunami of tries possible. Tackling was obviously an optional extra, and most of the visitors chose not to tick this box. After six Glasgow tries and 30 minutes of action, the heaven’s opened and the monsoon did far more to slow Glasgow’s rate of scoring than anyone in a Zebre shirt.
Quite how this one-sided game helps prepare Glasgow for the more rigorous examination that Munster will demand this Friday is anyone’s guess, although it is questionable whether more than about one-third of this Glasgow XV will start against the men in red.
The Warriors faithful are used to seeing the opposition bemused by Fijian trickery, only last night it was No.8 Leone Nakarawa rather than crowd favourite Niko Matawalu who was doing the bemusing. The big man was immensely influential, charging around the park like his shorts were on fire, holding the ball aloft and always looking to put a colleague through a gap. He offers Glasgow a point of difference should Townsend feels he needs one although he may have to make do with a place on the bench.
Any residual nerves that the home team may have carried onto the Scotstoun turf disappeared after exactly 50 seconds which was how long it took Stuart Hogg to score the opening try of the evening.
The Scotland full-back hasn’t enjoyed the best season. He played well last night only to find himself replaced at half-time, although that may be a good sign for the semi-final.
Zebre kicked off and Glasgow collected. The ball was moved to the right, hoisted high and Sean Lamont recovered a high ball quite brilliantly on his return to action. The ball was moved to the right with Nakarawa, Duncan Weir and Moray Low handling before Pat MacArthur’s delayed pass bought half a yard for the fullback and Hogg stepped inside the final defender.
Weir kicked the touchline conversion with two minutes gone and five minutes later the stand-off was lining up another after a burst of power and pace by Nakarawa put Ryan Grant over near the posts, the big Fijian holding the ball in one hand and holding all comers at bay with the other like a latter day Michael Jordan.
The traffic was all one way and Zebre’s slim hopes of snatching an unlikely win were not helped when flanker Andries van Schalkwyk retired from the action with an eighth-minute injury. Moreover the Italian side had an opportunistic interception wiped off by referee Alain Rolland who had spotted a previous infringement and awarded a penalty to Glasgow instead.
From that very penalty, Weir opted for an attacking lineout and, to his surprise as much as everyone else’s, Al Kellock stumbled backwards through the non-existent defence for a rare try. The match was 15 minutes old and just three minutes older when Hogg grabbed his second and his team’s fourth, bonus-point try. Weir missed the conversion which was scant consolation to Zebre who actually had Rolland quizzing the TMO about a possible try for the Italians. It wasn’t awarded.
The tries continued thick and fast at the opposite end. Alex Dunbar grabbed one and then Hogg hacked ahead only to lose a foot race with Matawalu to the touch down. It would have been his hat-trick and the full-back appeared less than amused by the winger’s cheeky poaching. Some sort of justice was done since Matawalu slid head-first into the advertising hoardings.
Glasgow were 40 points to the good at half-time but the rain, an inevitable temptation to ease off and a few changes that stiffened Zebre’s resolve meant that the second 40 was an entirely different affair. The teams made the usual raft of changes but the poor people manning the scoreboard got a much-needed rest while both sides came to terms with the conditions.
The third quarter remained scoreless but with Matawalu moving to scrum-half, Glasgow raised a head of steam and managed to hold on to the greasy pig’s bladder long enough to score a short-range effort that the commentator awarded to Geoff Cross. Matawalu then got one himself to the delight of the crowd.
Glasgow have a first-ever home semi-final on Friday and the considerable hurdle of Munster standing between them and a first-ever final.
Glasgow: Hogg (Murchie 40 mins), Lamont, Dunbar, Horne, Matawalu; Weir, Pyrgos (Jones 60 min); Grant (Yanuyanutawa 50 mins), MacArthur (Hall 55 mins), Low (Cross 55 mins), Swinson (Harley 64 mins), Kellock, Eddie, Fusaro (Holmes 50 mins), Nakawara.
Zebre: Odiete (Chillon 40 mins), Toniolatti, Garcia, Venditti, Berryman; Iannone, Palazzani; Perugini (Matias 40 mins), Giazzon (D’Apice 40 mins), Christolini, Geldenhuys, Bortolami (Biagi 45 mins), Bergamasco (Caffini 77 mins), Van Schalkwyk (Christiano 8 mins), Vunisa.
Referee: A Rolland (IRFU). Attendance: 5,950.