An astonishing opening 15 minutes in Parma saw both teams rack up two scores apiece as Glasgow Warriors sought to regain second place in the RaboDirect PRO12.
Their Italian hosts, Zebre, have been pushed other sides all the way as they seek their first win in their first season in the PRO12 and the chaotic opening played into their hands but in the end it was a five try, bonus point win for Gregor Townsend’s men.
With just four minutes on the clock and Glasgow on the front foot, Niko Matawalu threw a long pass out to the back line but the Zebre number 8, van Schalkwyk, picked off the pass and had the pace to race home from 70 metres.
The Warriors struck back almost immediately from the restart, Byron McGuigan on the receiving end as quick hands through the backs let the former Scotland 7s star take off down the wing. He still had work to do, however, and he duly obliged by stepping inside both his marker and the full back to dot down under the posts.
The frenetic opening continued when, just two minutes later, Scott Wight saw his clearance kick charged down and the Zebre full back was the quickest to react and helped himself to another score.
Wight’s boot extended the lead to 14-17 a further three minutes later though neither side were able to establish a pattern of play. Halangahu, Wight’s opposite number, levelled the game again with a penalty of his own after twenty-five minutes.
The hosts took the lead once again as Tim Swinson was deemed offside at the breakdown and the Warriors would go into half-time with a three point deficit and plenty of words to be had in the dressing room.
Their bid to take control of the game might have suffered a setback as Graeme Morrison was sent to the bin for an apparent punch being thrown but Zebre too were reduced to fourteen just a two minutes later for persistent offending around the breakdown.
The Warriors were better placed to take advantage of the extra space and Byron McGuigan was rewarded with his second score of the day as captain Ryan Wilson threw a huge miss-pass to find McGuigan unmarked on the wing.
At 20-22, Zebre had the chance to make inroads back into the game but, in what might be deemed a turning point, Halangahu’s penalty effort drifted wide.
Elite Development player Finn Russell had been introduced for his first Warriors appearance, at fly-half, and it was a side peppered with youth, including Scotland A's Sean Kennedy, which extended and then closed out the tricky away tie.
Niko Matawalu, named man of the match, created another score which saw the Warriors claim the bonus point. As he exploited another space he found James Eddie loitering on the wing and the big flanker had the easiest of run ins for the score. Russell, who had missed his first conversion, did wonderfully well to find a route through the sticks with his second effort from far out on the touchline.
Glasgow’s afternoon, while nervy and untidy at times, was rounded off with the score of the day. Once again the Fijian Matawalu, now playing on the wing, took off past his man. He found replacement scrum-half Kennedy inside and he was calm and clear of thought to evade a tackle and feed Swinson. The second-rows approach was somewhat more direct and he, in the midst of a tackle, off loaded to Murchie – who had started the move under a high ball – and the full-back cruised over the line to give Russell the easiest of conversions.
While Zebre continued to press, Townsend introduced Fraser Thomson at full-back and it was a welcome return to the front line for Ed Kalman after a long injury lay-off.
The win lifts Glasgow Warriors back into second place in the Rabo Direct PRO12 , two points clear of Leinster and seven behind league leaders Ulster. Glasgow Warriors played Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade before back-to-back games at Scotstoun Stadium against Ulster and Cardiff Blues.
Murchie (Sub, Thomson 75), R.Lamont (Sub Kennedy 58), Dunbar, Morrison, McGuigan, Wight (Sub, Russell 56), Matawalu
Wilson (Captain), Barclay (Sub, Eddie 60), Strauss, Swinson (Sub, Campbell 66), Ryder, Welsh (Sub, Kalman 63), Price (sub, Brown 59), Reid (Sub, Fainga'anuku 71).
Brown, Fainga'anuku, Kalman, Campbell, Eddie, Kennedy, Russell, Thomson