Glasgow headed to Italy as the only team with three wins in the Rabo this season, but knowing even the newest Italian team are no pushovers at home now.
In terms of classic rugby it was a quiet opening quarter of an hour, but there was plenty for referee Dudley Phillips to whistle at. Glasgow’s squad saw the return of Sean Maitland making one of his occasional (but possibly to be more frequent?) appearances at fullback and the return of hero Niko Matawalu meant Cusiter was stuck in the commentary box with Hugh Dan MacLennan. Other big names rested included Sean Lamont, Ryan Grant and Stuart Hogg but this was still a game Glasgow came to win.
Henry Pyrgos, perhaps spurred into action by a strong showing from Chris Cusiter last week, went close on 17mins but there was no supporting runner and the spirited Zebre (led by classy Brendon Leonard) broke out quickly to the delight of the home support. Luckily for Glasgow, outside Leonard was the “mercurial” Luciano Orquera who supplied Glasgow plenty of counter-attacking ball with duff kicks for Josh Strauss and Ruaridh Jackson to attack with.
Strauss and Pyrgos combined again minutes later even closer to the line, with the big South African seemingly unable to carry the ball without making ground, but Henry Pyrgos fumbled a foot short of the line with plenty of men outside. As if to make up for it, Pyrgos became the latest candidate in Glasgow’s hunt for a goal-kicker, perhaps the one area that has been truly worrying this season. Being an indispensible points-scorer is one way to keep Niko Matawalu out of the team.
If not exactly a worry, the lack of zippy back play we saw so much last season has been a small niggle, but grinding out these wins it would only be a matter of time before Glasgow felt confident enough to cut loose. A training-park set-piece move from Jackson and Argentine centre Gabriel Ascarate put Maitland through the gap and although his well-timed pass to Byron McGuigan was All-Black flat, but no one was complaining as McGuigan scampered in and Glasgow took a 10 point lead with half an hour gone.
Things got worse for the home side as Salvatore Perugini was carded for cynical play moments later and although Pyrgos missed the penalty, the decision gave Glasgow a real chance to build a score around half time. As it was, Orquera closed the half with a missed penalty.
HT Zebre 3-10 Glasgow
Man advantage or not, Glasgow came out firing with Dunbar breaking down the middle of the pitch as Zebre’s defence became increasingly porous. Simple ball right to left through the hands put Dougie Hall inevitably over in the corner. Pyrgos converted from out wide and ten minutes later he had another crack from the same position. Another excellently timed pass – this time from Jackson – put Maitland through, and the fullback’s deft grubber bounced up for McGuigan’s second try. Pyrgos converted again.
With the result seemingly all but put to bed, a bonus point would have been foremost on many minds but Glasgow were also keen not to concede a try yet this season. Sadly that record was broken after Jonny Gray paid the price for a spell of repeated indiscipline, leaving Glasgow’s defence short. At the first time of asking, Phillips bottled awarding a pretty clear try but Samuela Vunisa made good for Zebre shortly thereafter.
With ten minutes to play, Zebre suddenly woke up and started playing some attacking rugby, Leonardo Sarto running in a try from broken play; it looked like they might chase a bonus point of some sort themselves.
Glasgow were suddenly bewildered at the momentum shift that saw them down a man and constantly on the wrong side of the referee, while the home team were resurgent and trailing by only 7 points.
With Gray back on the pitch and 30 seconds left on the clock they had one last chance to take the full 5 points back to Scotstoun and be certain of remaining top of the table. Careful ball carrying by the forwards before putting it through the hands should have seen the bonus point safely gathered but when it went to the backs it went out the wrong way to Wight on the short side, who was held up by the ample defence and the maul went nowhere, leaving Phillips to blow up.
Ultimately there was a slight sense of disappointment but nevertheless this was an away win, the tries have started flowing and Glasgow are still unbeaten and still top of the league, at least for tonight.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Strauss was looking a certainty till he went off at half time and Glasgow missed his direct running in the second half. Maitland was good too but Henry Pyrgos probably had the most influence on the outcome of the game, for better or worse.