THERE is a theatrical tradition that a bad dress rehearsal is the sign of a good opening night. Glasgow Warriors will certainly be hoping it was true as they collapsed from a point where they were in total control of the game to end out sweating on the result after being 22 points ahead.
Afterwards, Gregor Townsend, the Scotstoun team’s head coach, was relieved that his much-changed young team had managed to hold out against a late barrage of attacks. “We had to hang on a little bit with ten minutes to go but the way we got the ball back and went through the phases was excellent and set up a chance to score – we got a penalty,” he said.
“It was far from perfect and far from our best performance but a bonus point win is really good at this time of the season. It will focus that if we drop our standards against any team, whether it is Leicester or Zebre, they will take their opportunities.”
It had never looked easy for the Scots. They had second row problems in the week leading up to the game and these problems were soon joined by front row issues when Corey Flynn, the All Black hooker, dropped out just before the start, forcing Townsend to shuffle his side.
Luckily he had a ready-made replacement in Fraser Brown with Matt Fagerson – Zander’s kid brother – stepping up to make his first start. Not the kind of build-up they were looking for, however, and if you were kind, it may have played a role in the lack of concentration that handed Zebre a penalty in the first few seconds. Carlo Canna, the stand-off, landing the points
They went in front when Nick Grigg, the centre who had been causing all sorts of problems for the home defence, made another break, Lee Jones on the wing was in support and when he was stopped just short, Sean Lamont was there to finish the scoring move.
Penalties both ways kept the scoreboard ticking over, with Rory Clegg collecting two to another for Canna, as the Scots kept their noses in front.
The mistakes were still a problem, though, and a complete blunder from the kick off after the second Clegg penalty, handed wing Giovanbattista Venditti the chance to charge into the Scots’ defence and lay on a simple score for his hooker Oliviero Fabiani.
Normal service was resumed, however, with Glasgow snapping up a loose ball in their own 22 and putting Grigg off on a 80 yard run into the Zebre 22. Though he was caught a couple of yards short, there was enough support to shift the ball across the field for Brown to shrug off some weak tackles and run in.
After the break, Glasgow enjoyed something of a purple patch with two quick-fire tries seeming to put the game to bed.
The first came off another Grigg break as he found space in midfield off a set-piece move and though his inside pass was not the best he has even given, it was still good enough for Lamont to pick up the bobbling ball and cross for his second try.
The scoring bonus point was soon in the bag and it was probably fair to say that the local fans had mixed feelings about it as Clegg looped his centres to create space for Leonardo Sarto, who left Zebre in the summer, to cross for the Scots.
That was as good as it got for the visitors, though. Zebre suddenly found their fire and start to dominate possession and put the Scots under real pressure.
The first try came as Canna switched direction and his neat little kick into space was good enough for Venditti to win the race on to the ball and collect their second try.
That should have rung a few alarm bells among the Scots, but they simply could not get their hands on the ball as the Italians laid siege to their line. Eventually, the defence had to break and Zebre found the space out wide for Andries van Schalwyk, the No8, to go over for the try that brought them right back into the game.
Glasgow did manage to push their lead out with a third penalty but Zebre rescued the losing bonus point with a Canna penalty on the stroke of full time.