Despite the cautious words from Glasgow coaches and players about the task facing them ahead of Zebre’s visit to Scotstoun Stadium, the Italians were always likely to be steamrolled by a mighty Warriors side that has showcased its strength in depth in recent weeks to win seven on the bounce and coming close to a rare win against Leinster in Dublin. Gregor Townsend conceded he has used some 35+ players in the last eight games—only Leinster have a squad depth capable of producing results to allow them to challenge for the title without much drop off. The side that ran out against Zebre is almost certain to be changed when Munster arrive next week. Townsend hinted at his pre-match press conference that he had a team in mind for the semi-final and with full-back Stuart Hogg coming off at half-time there’s a good chance he will start despite the recent impressive form of Peter Murchie. Notable absentees included number 8 Josh Strauss, with lock Leone Nakawara dropping into the back row because of an injury to Ryan Wilson, while lock Jonny Gray, scrum-half Chris Cusiter and wingers Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland are also likely to be recalled, which certainly leads to the question of can you leave out the unpredictable Niko Matawalu as happened against Munster last month? The problem for the Warriors is they have an embarrassment of riches in most positions with many in form. Townsend has rotated his outside-half in the last eight games. Will that happen next week? It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Duncan Weir continue at outside-half after his impressive display against Munster at Thomond Park with Finn Russell in as 12, as he was the last time they met. Townsend is a coach who likes horses for courses and the 23-man squad that shocked Munster in Limerick gives the best indication of how they will line up next week.
The club that finished bottom of the Pro12 last season without a win had racked up four wins this season and went into the match off the back of surprise wins over Edinburgh and Ospreys. The bianconeri went behind in the opening minute and offered nothing in attack as the Warriors did more than blow the doors off any defensive efforts put in their way. There was very little from Zebre in attack, short of a Quintin Geldenhuys dive for the line which was short and lost forward. It was a ruthless attacking display from the Warriors in the first half, which wasn’t quite perfect but far too much for the minnows to cope with. Injuries and other reasons meant Zebre named just one replacement back on the bench with three back rowers making up the numbers on the bench and never had the chance to make any meaningful changes with the game beyond them—even a heavy downpour just before half-time and persistent rain into the second half couldn’t help Zebre get into the game. The emphatic defeat—Zebre’s heaviest since their arrival in the Pro12—and Treviso’s ability to secure a losing bonus point against Newport Gwent Dragons means Zebre finish bottom again and miss out on the Rugby Champions Cup, but they will have won many friends this season for keeping themselves in games and stealing wins. This wasn’t one of their finer moments in the Pro12.
No away side has ever won a Pro12 semi-final which heaped extra pressure on the Warriors to ensure they got the win they needed. As it turned out, third-place Munster were undone by an understrength Ulster side at Thomond Park as the Warriors were running riot in the west of Glasgow. The Warriors now host Munster on Friday night with serious momentum after their eight successive wins while the Irish province have stuttered in recent weeks with Townsend’s side winning 22-5 at Thomond Park. Munster defeated Glasgow on their last visit to Scotstoun, but with a 10,000 capacity crowd expected as the Warriors bid to reach their first Pro12 final, home advantage could come to the fore again. A heart-warming speech at the end of the Zebre match by club captain Al Kellock called for Scottish rugby fans to get behind the Warriors in the semi-final and that will surely be the case as they look to drown out the expected sizeable travelling Munster supporters. With Leinster facing Ulster in the other semi-finals, the likelihood is that a win would see the Warriors travel to the RDS for the final—the scene of their last two semi-final defeats.
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BIOGRAPHY: Cesc Fabregas