Danny Wilson’s young lions recovered from a nightmarish period either side of half-time to eventually drag Zebre down, and a slightly more experienced head in Nick Grigg delivered the killer blow at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
Both sides were forced into early changes when Zebre full-back Michael Biondelli’s weaving run was ended by Gregor Brown’s face.
Biondelli was down for some time being attended to by the medical staff, while Brown – although the head-on-head collision had looked sickening – the first-time starter, limped off with what looked like a knee injury after falling awkwardly from the collision. On came Leone Nakarawa for what was going to be a long shift for a replacement.
Paolo Pescetto and Ross Thompson traded penalties and the Italian stand-off then saw another effort just drop short of the posts from a tough angle, following on from Oli Kebble being penalised at a scrum for hinging.
Despite having the first foray in attack, Warriors had spent most of the time in their own half without the ball, until the 23rd minute when they took the lead.
A swift move down the left saw the ball tickled forward by Cole Forbes and the bouncing ball evaded the Zebre backline to afford Thompson an easy score which he also converted. The try came at some cost though, as Enrique Pieretto took a stray boot to the face at a ruck which saw him go off for an HIA.
The unfamiliar site of a penalty advantage not being pulled back followed for Glasgow after a scintillating break down the right flank by Rufus McLean which took the Warriors within 5m, and although a second penalty went their way a spill by temporary replacement tighthead D’arcy Rae handed possession back to Zebre.
McLean again threatened the try-line again after a sweeping move off the set-piece, but a despairing last-ditch tackle from scrum-half Gugliemo Palazzani just saw his boot taken into touch before he recovered to ground the ball.
Huw Jones was not having his best game, and another handling error from him inside the Warriors’ half was eventually finished off by Mattia Bellini right under the sticks.
In the build-up to the try, Sam Johnson had lifted Ian Nagle in the tackle so the Warriors were also down to 14 following Potu Leavasa’s earlier card.
His power in defence was sorely missed as Zebre once again carved Glasgow open far too easily and Bellini was in for his second try in two minutes. There were some nice offloads in the move but some of the Glasgow tackling just wasn’t hard enough to disrupt the Zebre flow.
As has been the case far too often this season, with the half-time whistle drawing close Glasgow had switched off and went from a position of strength to now chasing the game.
Half-time: Zebre 17 – 10 Glasgow Warriors
The start of the second half saw a further blow to Glasgow.
Having lost possession when their maul was halted and they couldn’t get the ball back, Ollie Smith saw yellow for a deliberate knock-on as Zebre spun the ball from one wing to the other.
Zebre, sensing blood, went to the touchline but on this occasion it was Zebre’s maul that couldn’t get moving properly and Glasgow were given the chance to clear their lines, which with two men missing from the defensive line came as some relief.
Zebre threatened the Warriors line again following a contentious turnover penalty being won by Marco Manfredi who was never supporting his own weight at the breakdown, but they did extend the lead from the tee as Rufus McLean was subsequently caught offside as he scrambled back to defend the line.
Smith’s sin-binning period ran out but he was not to return as Nick Grigg replaced him and Ian Keatley came on for Ross Thompson, and it was the pocket rocket of Grigg who made the decisive line-break as Glasgow pulled themselves back into striking distance.
Zebre spilled the ball at the fringes of the Glasgow 22, Huw Jones and Cole Forbes made some metres, and when Grigg saw himself facing a Zebre lock he powered through the gap and popped the ball off to Jamie Dobie for a simple run-in.
As Glasgow probed, Zebre lost stand-off Pescetto to a head-knock when he took Ian Keatley’s knee to the face when attempting the tackle, forcing a major reshuffle in their backs division.
Multiple penalties went the Warriors way with 15mins remaining, which forced referee Andrea Pirardi back into his pocket to this time send Enrico Lucchin to the naughty step.
Rather than take the easy leveller off the tee, Glasgow tapped and went. A few phases later, they had retaken the lead when Tom Gordon stretched over, but may have dislocated his shoulder in the process as he then trudged off with his arm in a makeshift sling.
A four-point lead with approximately 10mins remaining, could Danny Wilson’s stuttering side hold out for the win which would take them above their Italian opponents?
They could do better. Zebre made a mess of their line-out, Glasgow countered down the left and Huw Jones judged a chip over the top with such precision that Nicolo Casilio couldn’t escape coffin corner and the clutches of Cole Forbes who dragged him into touch.
Line-out safely completed – and with yet another close-range penalty advantage – it was replacement Grigg, who had turned the tide with his break for Dobie’s try, that ran onto Sam Johnson’s inside pass to bring up the bonus-point score.
A few handling and execution errors – Thompson and Keatley both liable for putting the ball out on the full – and a worrying number of players going off injured which resulted in Grant Stewart playing a full 80 with Johnny Matthews resorting to openside flanker, but job eventually done for Danny Wilson’s young bucks.
SRBlog Player of the Match: You’d maybe not ask him look after your pets, but the young Kiwi Cole Forbes had a very solid game, making metres in hand, creating the first try with his teasing kick, and winning a turnover which eventually led to the Dobie score.
Referee: Andrea Pirardi (FIR)