Guinness PRO12: Gregor Townsend wary of Zebre threat

Glasgow Warriors head coach expects a big test when the league's bottom club visit Scotstoun Stadium on Friday night

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Glasgow Warriors scored 54 points in each of their last two matches against Zebre Photo by Stefano Delfrate

Gregor Townsend has urged caution ahead of Glasgow Warriors’ potential banana skin match against Zebre at Scotstoun Stadium on Friday night.

The Glasgow Warriors head coach has welcomed back five Scotland internationals to his starting XV for the Guinness PRO12 clash as they look to get back to winning ways following last week’s 22-10 defeat to Munster in Cork.

We know they’ll come out with a lot of emotion for the fact they lost heavily at home.

Gregor Townsend

The bonus-point win saw the Irish province leapfrog the Scots into top spot in the league but, while Munster face a potentially difficult trip to Swansea to take on the Ospreys, the Warriors are expected to dish out a thumping to the league’s bottom club when they visit Glasgow.

There is a good reason for that: the Warriors have scored 16 tries for 108 points in their last 160 minutes of rugby against Zebre.

But Townsend cited Italy’s 22-19 win over Scotland in the RBS 6 Nations last weekend and an element of revenge on the cards when the bianconeri arrive in the west of Glasgow.

“A few of their players would have been here last week and will have happy memories of playing in Scotland,” Townsend said at his pre-match press conference at Scotstoun Stadium.

“We know they’ll come out with a lot of emotion for the fact they lost heavily at home.

“They’ll look to play – a lot like Italy did against Scotland, like Zebre tried to do against us, so it’s a big test for us.

“There’s a bit of confidence in Italian rugby and I’m sure there’ll be a bit of revenge after our result against them [a few] weeks ago.”

Zebre have again had to dip into Italy’s National Championship to make up the numbers for their match-day 23 with eight internationals not released back to the club during a down week in the Six Nations.

Despite that, even experienced campaigners like Italian outside-half Luciano Orquera and former All Blacks scrum-half Brendon Leonard have been left on the bench for the match.

However, Zebre still pack some experience in their starting XV, with Mirco Bergamasco continuing at centre, while his brother Mauro keeps his place at openside flanker despite being named earlier this week in Jacques Brunel’s training squad to face France, and there is a place in the engine room for Italian international lock Quintin Geldenhuys, who missed the opening three rounds of the Six Nations through injury.

They’ve got nothing to lose. They’re coming here with a bit of confidence from the Italy game, the way they’ve played the last two weeks.

Gregor Townsend

For the Warriors, who have had to plumb the depths of their resources in recent weeks just to name a squad with 22 players unavailable through international selection or injury, there is the luxury of having six players returned from the Scotland camp for this match.

Delighted to have more weapons to play with, Townsend has wasted no time in getting them back into the starting XV with outside-half Peter Horne and Sean Lamont, who both started against Italy, returned to the backline, while forward Rob Harley slots into the second row and loosehead prop Ryan Grant makes the bench.

There is a further boost for the Warriors with winger Lee Jones back in the team, as well as openside flanker Chris Fusaro, who returns after ankle surgery in December, while Adam Ashe continues at blindside flanker and Alex Allan at loosehead prop from the defeat to Munster.

Zebre may have slipped to the bottom of the PRO12 and lost their head coach Andrea Cavinato and director Roberto Manghi after an internal incident last month, but Townsend insists the Italians have improved since his Warriors thrashed them 54-10 at the Stadio Lanfranchi on 15 February.

“They’ve played much better since we played them [in February] – a lot, lot better,” Townsend said.

“They had some internal problems the night before that game, so we got them at a good time over there.

“The following week, they went to Leinster and were leading 8-3 after 45 minutes, which is a really good achievement and kept battling to the end – Leinster only scored their fourth try in the 82nd minute.

“They beat the Dragons last week, who’ve been playing well recently, so they’re a much better prospect.

“They’ll look at where they had a bit of success against us. I thought they competed really well at the breakdown.

“They look to play from deep, whether they continue that policy we’ll see.

“They’ve got nothing to lose. They’re coming here with a bit of confidence from the Italy game, the way they’ve played the last two weeks.”

Despite Townsend’s cautious approach, the Warriors have defeated Zebre on the five previous occasions the two clubs have met and have not been defeated in the PRO12 at Scotstoun Stadium for 16 matches, stretching back to November 2013.

Glasgow Warriors: Peter Murchie; Lee Jones, Sean Lamont, Connor Braid, DTH van der Merwe; Peter Horne, Niko Matawalu; Alex Allan, Kevin Bryce, Rossouw de Klerk, Rob Harley, Al Kellock (captain), Adam Ashe, Chris Fusaro, Josh Strauss.

Replacements: Dougie Hall, Ryan Grant, Zander Fagerson, James Eddie, Will Bordill; Ali Price, Richie Vernon, Glenn Bryce.

Zebre: Giulio Toniolatti; Dion Berryman, Mirco Bergamasco, Matteo Pratichetti, David Odiete; Edoardo Padovani, Alberto Chillon; Andrea De Marchi, Oliviero Fabiani, Lorenzo Romano, Quintin Geldenhuys, Andrei Mahu, Ruben Riccioli, Mauro Bergamasco (captain), Valerio Bernabò.

Replacements: Luciano Leibson, Andrea Lovotti, Luca Redolfini, Filippo Gerosa, Renato Giammarioli; Brendon Leonard, Luciano Orquera, Gonzalo Garcia.

Referee: Ian Davies (WRU).

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