Glasgow picked up full points last night and won handsomely in the end but only after displaying worrying inconsistency. Three of their five tries came in an 11-minute purple patch in the second half after an undistinguished opening 40 minutes.
The home side were quickly out of the traps, scoring the opening try after only four and a bit minutes but they struggled to contain Zebre in the remainder of the opening half and would have been trailing at the break if the Italians had a kicker worth the name.
This was Glasgow’s last hit out before Saracens arrive a week tomorrow for that Champions Cup opener and while this was a long way short of his strongest team, coach Dave Rennie will still have plenty to chew over in the coming week.
The Glasgow front row was penalised in three out of four successive set scrums in the first half and it looked like the giant loosehead Oli Kebble was singled out for blame.
Some of Glasgow’s handling was sloppy, Ruaridh Jackson and Rory Hughes, playing his first game of the league season, both butchered first-half scoring opportunities with wayward passes and, on another occasion, those mistakes will matter more.
A couple of lineouts went awry and Glasgow’s defence still carries a health warning for anyone allergic to unwanted excitement. The home side struggled to cope with the direct running of the powerful Zebre back row and backs.
A couple of Warriors lived up to the name. Adam Ashe levelled one poor visitor early in the second half, but too many in black lost too many collisions that counted especially in the first 60-odd minutes.
The match was less than five minutes old when Glasgow conjured up the first try of the match straight from the first set scrum of the evening.
It was simplicity itself. Adam Hastings celebrated his 22nd birthday in some style, showing good pace to round Zebre centre Tommaso Boni with the help of a big fend. One pass inside to the supporting Huw Jones and the Scotstoun faithful had the start they wanted.
Glasgow reacted by putting their feet up and patting themselves on the back at a job well done and Zebre proceeded to boss the remainder of the first half, with the vast majority of the action taking place deep inside Glasgow territory.
Worse was to follow. Just after the 30-minute mark Hastings had a clearance kick charged down and from the high field position full-back Edoardo Padovani came close to a score. Glasgow conceded a penalty under pressure, Zebre opted for a scrum and two phases later the big flanker Apisai Tauyavuca muscled over from short range.
Somehow scrum-half Marcello Violi missed the simplest of conversions but swapped penalties with Hastings to give Glasgow a nervy 10-8 lead at the break.
Hastings had to make a try-saving tackle early in the second half before a yellow card for the visitors’ No 7 on 52 minutes, for a high tackle on Chris Fusaro, seemed to spur Glasgow into life. The home team scored three converted tries between 54 and 65 minutes to take this game out of reach.
First up George Turner scored from an attacking lineout, peeling off the front and finding acres of space.
The set scrum then dismantled the opposition eight under their own sticks and the big USA Eagle Greg Peterson barrelled over for Glasgow’s third try to be followed quickly by George Horne, who finished off another great break by Huw Jones to score under the sticks.
The outside centre won the man-of-the-match award and is finally displaying his international class at club level.
Glasgow continued to grow in confidence and five minutes from time Peter Horne finished off the best move of the match, which included a back flip by Hastings.
The young stand-off not only kicked beautifully with four conversions and one penalty but he also walked away with the McCrea Player of the Month Award for September. A fitting birthday present for the man who has filled Finn Russell’s boots with aplomb.