Zebre may be in the grip of a soul-destroying three-game run in which they have failed to score a single point but Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend believes a return to home turf will make the Italian strugglers a tougher proposition.
The Guinness Pro12’s second-bottom side have lost on the road 32-0 to Ulster, 47-0 to Munster and 29-0 to Edinburgh and tonight host the champions hoping to at least break their scoreboard duck.
“They are certainly a different team at home than they are away, going by the results,” said Townsend from Verona yesterday, where his squad have been based since the weekend win at Treviso ahead of this evening’s match in Parma.
“They are a tough team – they tackle well, they are committed, and they have a strong set-piece. And some of those games when they haven’t scored any points, it has not been until the last 20 minutes that teams have started to break them down. “The Edinburgh game [last Friday] was 3-0 after 50 minutes and then they missed a couple of kicks at goal to go ahead.
“So it will take an 80-minute performance. We know that they will have been looking forward to this game at home – having travelled a fair bit [in the last few weeks] – and they’ll be boosted by having a few Italian internationals back. So it will require a really good performance for us to win.”
Townsend has made a number of changes from the 38-16 win in Treviso, with Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg rested and a new half-back pairing of Ali Price and Duncan Weir selected.
Alex Dunbar replaces Mark Bennett at outside centre and Tommy Seymour comes in on the left wing for Sean Lamont. Glenn Bryce takes Hogg’s No 15 jersey.
Up front, Leone Nakarawa replaces Tim Swinson in the second-row, Rob Harley comes in for Josh Strauss on the blindside and Ryan Wilson replaces Adam Ashe at No 8. Hooker Pat MacArthur could feature for the first time in two months after recovering from a hamstring injury.
This evening’s game was due to be played in January, but was postponed so the Warriors could play their rescheduled European Rugby Champions Cup fixture with Racing 92. The Warriors’ league position is looking a lot more healthy than it was at the start of the year and, having hauled themselves back into the top four, Townsend is relishing the league run-in and the chance to push for a top-two finish that would guarantee a home semi-final as they bid to defend the title.
“We know that we have now created an opportunity,” said the head coach. “I think a lot of teams will say that their destiny is in their hands, well it’s certainly in ours.
“We want to win all our remaining games to get a home semi-final because we’ve got Connacht and Scarlets still to play and they are above us in the league.
“But they’ll say the same thing – if they win all their games then they’ll get a home semi-final so there is still a lot of rugby to be played, starting tomorrow and then a huge away game next week against the Scarlets. We just have to keep working and keep improving until we get there.”
It is forecast to be cool and cloudy with a chance of rain in Parma tonight, but the sun was shining in Verona yesterday and Townsend said the chance to spend the week together in Italy had been a welcome one.
“There is a lot you can gain from a rugby perspective. You are chatting to the players more often and training together and the focus is rugby,” he explained. “The players also have a chance to socialise together. It is great to have this at this stage of the season and we will get the benefits.
“Treviso gave us a fantastic opportunity to train at their facilities. We went out with their coaches for a meal, and the forwards did a live scrum session with them. So thanks to the people who have hosted us.”