Glasgow Warriors roared to a record-breaking victory over Zebre in their last home match of the regular Guinness Pro12 season to secure their fifth consecutive appearance in the play-offs and hit the top of the table for the first time this season.
Almost inevitably, it was the Leone Nakarawa Show as the flamboyant Fijian lock, who confirmed last week that he was departing at the end of the season, ran in a hat-trick of tries.
Stand-off Duncan Weir, who is also leaving at the end of the season to join Edinburgh, played a fine supporting role to the leading man with a perfect ten conversions and a try of his own at the end.
Connacht’s shock loss in Treviso means that Glasgow now need only draw in Galway next Saturday for a top-two finish and a home semi-final.
The Warriors’ stay at the top of the heap may be temporary if Leinster win in Ulster today and the matches ahead will be light years away in terms of difficulty from this brutal demolition of a dispirited and spent Zebre side, but such was the verve and confidence on display that you wouldn’t bet against Glasgow returning for a home semi-final and going all the way to the final at BT Murrayfield in four weeks.
The match ball was presented by stalwart James Eddie, the club’s longest-serving player who retired last week following a decade at Scotstoun, on a night when a raft of players were potentially playing their last home game for the Warriors.
Now bottom Zebre had faded away badly since the Six Nations period but created the first scoring opportunity, but centre Gonzalo Garcia was short with a penalty attempt from just inside his own half.
The visitors went on to dominate territorial possession in the first 15 minutes or so, but when Glasgow managed to get some momentum for the first time there was nothing the confidence-sapped Italians could do to keep the champions at bay.
Predictably, it was Nakarawa who made the incision out on the left to dot down and Weir’s conversion had Glasgow up and running.
The wind was almost immediately taken from their sails from the kick-off when Zebre took the kick-off and left-wing Kayle van Zyl came within inches of squeezing in at the corner before being just bundled into touch.
It was a case of “if at first you don’t succeed” for the Italians, however, as they probed again down that flank moments later and this time Van Zyl got the better of Taqele Naiyaravoro and twisted over after taking a pass from stand-off Carlo Canna, who was unsuccessful with the touchline conversion.
The game began to open up and Glasgow showed their intent by spurning both an attempt at goal and kick to the corner when awarded a penalty 30 yards out.
Instead, they went for the tap and go and, after skipper for the night Rob Harley made some yards, the surge became undefendable and Adam Ashe crashed over with Weir kicking the conversion.
The expected procession began in earnest when scrum-half Grayson Hart made an intelligent switch to the blindside from the back of a wheeling scrum 12 yards in the Glasgow half.
Full-back Glenn Bryce shrugged off a half-hearted tackle and sprinted clear to score with Weir, who will be joining him at Edinburgh next season, slotting the extras to open up a 21-5 lead.
The bonus point was in the bag little more than a minute later when Naiyaravoro pounced on some Italian indecision and romped clear down the right and Weir made it four from four with his right boot.
Prop Jerry Yanuyanutawa was the next outgoing Warrior to get the crowd on their feet when his sudden break down the middle led to the ball being spread left and Bryce cruised in for his second score.
Weir was on target again but the Italians exploited a bit of home complacency and avoided the ignominy of going in at the break 30 points adrift when centre Tommaso Boni exposed Glasgow’s right flank once again to get over in the corner for an unconverted try.
After the home crowd had roared their approval of the result from Treviso, the second half began as the first had ended with rampant Glasgow showing their guests no mercy. Nakarawa gleefully pounced on the right to stroll in for his second and Weir kept the scoreboard relentlessly ticking over.
It was by then clear that, with bigger tests ahead, Townsend’s hook was the only thing that could deny the Nakarawa hat-trick and the Fijian wasn’t for hanging about, bounding over under the posts to send the adoring Scotstoun stands into raptures.
Weir racked up an incredible seventh consecutive conversion as Glasgow showed no sign of easing off.
Nakarawa was almost in for a fourth but unselfishly offloaded to his second row partner Greg Peterson for the eighth try of the evening, followed by the now customary Weir accompaniment.
The flood continued to build into a deluge when replacement scrum-half Ali Price sprinted away down the left with minimal resistance and Weir did the necessary.That equalled Glasgow’s record of nine tries in a single game and, at 63-10 up, took them beyond their highest points total in Celtic/Pro12 competition, surpassing the 60-3 rout of the Dragons in Newport in February 2013.
An already perfect evening for the champions headed into the realms of the superlative when Bryce sent Mark Bennett over. The centre hesitated behind the posts then popped it up to Weir to touch down.
With the cheers ringing around Scotstoun the stand-off pinged over a tenth conversion before departing the stage with his arms aloft applauding the home support.
Nakarawa soon followed to take the acclaim as the clock wound down on a dream evening.