Zebre Rugby might still be waiting for their first victory of this Guinness PRO12 campaign but Glasgow Warriors chief Gregor Townsend knows the Italians are a tough prospect in front of their home fans.
Warriors travel to Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on Saturday hoping to continue their previous good record against Zebre, with the Italian side yet to beat the Scotsmen in eight previous meetings – failing to pick up a losing bonus point against them for over three years.
And while Zebre are yet to win this season, their last home game saw them narrowly lose 23-21 to Cardiff Blues, while the clash before saw them leading Connacht in front of their own fans only for the game to be postponed due to poor weather conditions.
In order to not fall foul to Zebre for the first time, Warriors head coach Townsend has handed Robert McAlpine his first start after making his debut off the bench last week in the victory over Newport Gwent Dragons, and he joins Rob Harley in the second row.
No.8 Ryan Wilson returns to captain the side having missed the victory in Newport, meaning Josh Strauss moves across the back row to the blindside and Fraser Brown once again starts on the openside.
Sean Lamont starts for the first time this season on the right wing having reached a century of caps against Connacht on the opening weekend, while Lee Jones is named as the other winger and Peter Murchie retains his spot at full-back.
It is a brand new centre partnership with Sam Johnson and Nick Grigg combining in midfield for Glasgow for the first time, after teaming up for Stirling County last weekend.
Ali Price and Rory Clegg, who came on as replacements last weekend, will once again combine in the half-backs, the scrum-half getting on the scoreboard the last time he started a match, which was against Cardiff Blues three weeks ago.
Corey Flynn, who opened his Warriors try-scoring account against the Dragons, starts his second consecutive game at hooker and he is joined in the front row by Gordon Reid and Sila Puafisi.
Townsend said: “Robert McAlpine has worked hard since he joined us last week and we look forward to him playing alongside Rob Harley.
“Callum Hunter-Hill impressed us with his workrate during pre-season against Harlequins, and now has an opportunity to make an impact from the bench in a Guinness PRO12 game.
“Zebre have shown that they are very strong at home, with a narrow defeat to Cardiff a couple of weeks ago and an impressive first-half performance against Connacht the previous week.
“Unfortunately for them, the match was then postponed and I’m sure that they will be very determined to carry on this home form against us. We will have to be accurate and work hard to win out in Parma.”
Zebre could face former wing Leonardo Sarto, who is on the Glasgow Warriors bench, while home head coach Gianluca Guidi has made six changes to the starting XV that lost to Munster last time out.
Five of those changes occur among the forwards with lock George Biagi, Prop Pietro Ceccarelli, hooker Oliviero Fabiani, flanker Maxime Mbandà and No.8 Andries Van Schalkwyk all returning.
The only change among the backs sees young winger Lloyd Greeff handed the No.14 jersey as he prepares to make his first start in front of the home crowd.
On the bench there is a first call of the season for scrum-half Marcello Violi who will be hoping to get back to playing after his knee surgery last December.
Zebre: Padovani, Greeff, Bisegni, Castello, Venditti, Canna, Palazzani, Lovotti, Fabiani, Ceccarelli, Furno, Biagi, Mbandà, Meyer, Van Schalkwyk
Replacements: Festuccia, Postiglioni, Chistolini, Geldenhuys, Ruzza, Violi, Boni, Van Zyl
Glasgow Warriors: Murchie, Lamont, Grigg, Johnson, Jones, Clegg, Price, Reid, Flynn, Puafisi, Harley, McAlpine, Strauss, Brown, Wilson
Replacments: Malcolm, Sears-Duru, Fagerson Z, Hunter-Hill, Fagerson M, Hart, Hogg, Sarto
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 8, Zebre won 0, Warriors won 8.
At Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, 5.05pm local time (4.05pm UK & Ireland)
Referee: Lloyd Linton (SRU, 14th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Cammy Rudkin (SRU), Andrea Spadoni (FIR)
Citing Commissioner: Roberto Carra (FIR)
Leonardo Sarto scored against his former side as Glasgow Warriors battled to their fourth Guinness PRO12 victory of the season in a hard-fought 33-28 encounter against Zebre in Italy.
The Italian international dotted down soon after the restart following superb work by Nick Grigg, with the centre delivering a masterclass to play his part in three tries in the Warriors’ bonus-point success.
Sean Lamont was also on hand to score twice, but the 2014-15 Guinness PRO12 champions far from had the situation their own way against a side who had not beaten them in eight previous encounters in the competition.
But despite their wretched record, it was Zebre who started on the front foot, playing through the phases to eventually catch the visitors offside as Carlo Canna kicked for the early lead.
It wasn’t to last long, however, with Lee Jones haring down the wing, halted in his tracks to find Lamont on hand to dot down with less than ten minutes played.
Despite their lead, Glasgow will have considered themselves far from their fluent best with a number of penalties conceded, Canna making the most of the opportunity to put the hosts 6-5 to the good.
It made for a rather end-to-end encounter as Rory Clegg kicked twice from in front of the posts to restore a Warriors lead, but once again Zebre made the most of a kick-off, hooker Oliviero Fabiani eventually showing great footwork to manoeuvre his way over and level the game.
It seemed as if the game would be on terms by the break, but fantastic work from Grigg saw the centre run from 90 metres from his own 22. He was eventually tackled, but with the Italian defence regrouping, Fraser Brown touched down in the corner for a seven-point lead after a conversion.
It gave the Warriors a head of steam heading into the second half, momentum they made the most of, counter-attacking to good effect as Lamont scored his second of the afternoon, courtesy of another Grigg offload.
Despite a 14-point deficit, Zebre were far from out of the game, but it was a former player who came back to haunt them as Sarto raced down the left wing to score.
Grigg was once again the architect, profiting from a quick penalty to stretch the defence before Sarto mopped up against the side he enjoyed four Guinness PRO12 years until the summer, securing the bonus point in the process.
And the breathless second half showed no signs of letting up, with replacement Thomas Boni putting through a neat grubber for Venditti to collect and run home to make it 18-30 heading to the last quarter.
Rob Harley was sent to the sin bin for pulling down the line-out as Zebre kept pushing, but a strong Glasgow defence kept the difference at a vital 12 points as the clock ticked away for the Italians.
Their pressure eventually told though as Andries van Schalkwyk ran through, and with a successful conversion making it a five-point encounter, a frantic finish was in store.
However, Zebre were not able to get their first win of the Guinness PRO12 season, Clegg kicking the decisive penalty to seal a ninth successive win over their Italian counterparts for Glasgow.
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