Glasgow: Tries – Swinson, Van der Merwe, Morrison; Cons – Jackson 2.
Zebre: Orquera; Pens – Orquera 3, Garcia; Con – Orquera
With three new signings all pitching up just over a week ago, Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend took the chance to push them into action along with a plethora of players who had enjoyed little involvement in the past few weeks.
The intention was clear, to build up the squad and keep others fresh, but it resulted in a performance that never ignited, lacking cohesion and the ability to hold onto ball through phases against a hard-working but less-than-inspiring Italian side.
It might have been worse after the Italian visitors ran up a 13-0 lead after just 12 minutes, penalties from Luciano Orquera and Gonzalo Garcia – the latter from nearly ten metres inside his own half – followed by an Orquera try exposing poor Glasgow defence inside their own 22.
Glasgow came back into the game and dominated for long spells, so deserved to win the game.
But the speed with which the Scotstoun stands emptied at the finish underlined the lack of entertainment value.
Stand-off Ruaridh Jackson worked hard to shape the attack but the team struggled throughout to build momentum and an incredible propensity to knock on ball with Zebre on the back foot, in pouring rain admittedly, left the match finely poised at 19-19 going into the last ten minutes. Glasgow were handed a fortunate route into the game in 19 minutes when a Jackson high ball was lost by Zebre wing Sinoti Sinoti under pressure and then slipped from the grasp of the other wing, Leonardo, to fall into the path of Tim Swinson. The big lock hacked ahead and dived on the loose ball along with Zebre full-back Daniel Halangahu.
It was debatable whether Swinson got downward pressure as the ball squirted away, but television match official Iain Ramage ruled that he had and Jackson added the extra points to suddenly pull the Warriors back into the game at the end of the first quarter.
Zebre were reduced to 14 men, blindside flanker Cristiano Filippo being yellow carded for foul play, and then it was 13 when veteran Italy flanker Mauro Bergamasco followed for what seemed like an offside infringement at a penalty.
But with the rain teeming down, Glasgow could not make it count. Their attack lacked incision in the Zebre 22, players barrelling head-down into opponents without looking for off-loads, and finding no support when they did look up, and the hard-working Italian defence happily soaked up the pressure until forcing an error.
Orquera slotted a penalty from nearly 40 metres, his lengthy preamble only frustrating home fans further, before Glasgow’s Canadian winger DTH van der Merwe stuck his nose into the proceedings.
The Glasgow pack had shunted Zebre backwards in the scrum, but the ball bobbled loose at the back, and van der Merwe spotted it. He came in close, took scrum-half Sean Kennedy’s pass and darted to the line for an opportune touchdown.
Again the TMO Ramage was called upon, the winger being tackled as he crashed into the left-hand corner, and again the try was given to cut the deficit to four points. Then, in the final minute of the half, van der Merwe launched an attack from his own half, slipping two tackles before pulling up holding his hamstring. Fortunately for him, Graeme Morrison was on his shoulder to sprint the last 35 metres to score in the left-hand corner.
Jackson also guided the touchline conversion superbly on the wind and through the uprights to send Glasgow into the break 19-16 up.
They returned without van der Merwe, but with Stuart Hogg on at full-back and Fraser Thomson shifted to the wing, while Zebre emerged without skipper Gonzalo Garcia, the centre floored innocuously by Tom Ryder’s flying boot at a ruck in the lead-up to Morrison’s score.
The Warriors continued to dominate possession, but still they could not find cruise mode in attack. Orquera pulled the scores level with a third penalty and the Warriors battered away at the Zebre defence in the last third only to hand over ball with knock-ons and penalties.
Glasgow: F Thomson; T Seymour, B McGuigan, G Morrison, DTH van der Merwe; R Jackson, S Kennedy; G Reid, F Gillies, M Cusack, T Ryder, T Swinson, A Macdonald, C Fusaro (capt), J Strauss.
Subs: S Hogg for van der Merwe 40mins, D Hall for Gillies, M Low for Cusack, J Eddie for Macdonald, all 54, R Wilson for Strauss, P Horne for Jackson, both 66, O Fainga’anuku for Reid 73, Cusack for Low 75.
Zebre: D Halangahu; L Sarto, M Pratichetti, G Garcia (capt), S Sinoti; L Orquera, A Chillon; M Aguero, D Giazzon, L Redolfini, Q Geldenhuys, M Van Vuren, F Cristiano, M Bergamasco, A Van Schalkwyk Subs: S Pace for Garcia 40mins, E Caffini for Van Vuren 47, C Fazzari for Redolfini 53, P Buso for Orquera 56, F Triopodi for Aguero 58, N Belardo for Cristiano 62, A Manici for Giazzon 67, L Martinelli for Chillon 75.