Glasgow Warriors moved a step closer to sealing a home quarter-final in the URC playoffs as they overcame a wobbly start to thrash Zebre Parma 40-9 and stretch their winning streak in the United Rugby Championship to six matches.

Franco Smith made nine changes to his side ahead of a daunting double-header on the road in South Africa against the Bulls and the Lions, including six rotations in the pack, and the visitors looked disjointed when the first whistle was blown.

Zebre dominated the opening half-hour and took a 6-0 lead through two Thomas Dominguez penalties as the ill-disciplined Warriors struggled to gain any meaningful possession or territory.

But Warriors turned to their devastating driving lineout for a route back into the game as Gregor Hiddleston crossed the try line twice from the back of the maul to calm Glaswegian nerves before the break.  

Kyle Steyn weaved his way under the posts from halfway to stretch the visitors’ lead early in the second half, and the sought-after fourth score arrived when the Scotland wing finished a flowing team move by sprinting down the touchline into the corner.

Jamie Dobie and George Horne punished a tiring home defence in the final five minutes to ensure it was an enjoyable day out for the travelling supporters on a warm and muggy afternoon in Parma.

Home quarter-final within touching distance

With three rounds left to go, a top-four finish that would guarantee Glasgow a home quarter-final in the URC playoffs is at their fingertips.

Saturday’s win lifted Warriors above Leinster to the top of the table ahead of the Irish giants’ clash with the Stormers later that evening, and they are well placed for not only a home quarter-final, but also a potential home semi-final should they end the regular season in the top two.

However, Glasgow still need to go to South Africa for a double-header against the Bulls and the Lions, by no means a simple task, before finishing up at home to today’s opponents Zebre at Scotstoun.

Smith’s shuffling of the pack a gamble well-taken

Franco Smith’s decision to switch out nine players came with an element of risk, regardless of Zebre’s ranking as the bottom side in the league.

And an uncertain start, particularly from a pack where six of those changes had been made, raised the question of whether it was such a smart move after all as the half-hour mark ticked by with Glasgow 6-0 down having barely touched the ball.

However, the much-changed Warriors side found their way back into the game and did what their hosts could not – pounced on the chances afforded to them.

Hiddleston’s guiding of the driving maul and Steyn’s lethal finishing from the wing were a lesson in clinical finishing from the Scots, and the eventual bonus-point victory achieved by a rotated side was a dream outcome ahead of the run-in to come.

Hiddleston heroics underline hooker depth

Glasgow’s threat from the five-metre lineout is not exactly a secret, as Johnny Matthews’ URC-best 12 tries this season will attest.

But with the free-scoring hooker out injured, joining George Turner and Fraser Brown on the sidelines, Warriors’ hooker stocks face a stern test in the season finale.

Hiddleston was given the chance to step up in Parma and he did just that, crossing the try line twice in the first half from the back of a driving pack that pulverised the hosts’ defences.

His performance provided cause for encouragement, as did Grant Stewart’s cameo from the bench in his first Warriors appearance for two years after re-joining the club this week from the Ayrshire Bulls.

Captain fantastic steps up

A glance at the final score might tell a different story, but there were plenty of uncomfortable moments for Glasgow at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.

While they scrapped their way to a first-half lead, they finished off the bonus-point job in style as their skipper showed his star quality to dig them out of a potentially problematic rut.

Just as Dominguez had reduced the deficit to five points early in the second half, the Scotland wing went on a weaving run under the posts from halfway, and he showed a vicious turn of pace inside the final quarter to power into the corner and secure that all-important fourth try.  

Glasgow can’t afford more sloppy starts

Glasgow’s sloppy first-half performance will require some serious analysis ahead of bigger challenges to come in the season run-in.

Zebre were left kicking themselves for their profligacy after going in at the break eight points down despite having the better of the possession and territory battles.

But the main criticism that can be aimed at the Italians was their inability to take advantage of an error-strewn Glasgow display, with the visitors coughing up seven penalties before half-time with a creaking scrum and scrappy breakdown work costing them.

Warriors fought back admirably, but on another day and against more ruthless opposition they may not get the chance to recover from such a stuttering start.

Zebre Parma: Lorenzo Pani, Jacopo Trulla, Franco Smith Jr (Fetuli Pea 69), Enrico Lucchin, Scott Gregory, Geronimo Prisciantelli (captain), Thomas Dominguez (Ratko Jelic 65), Danilo Fischetti (Samuele Taddei 63), Marco Manfredi (Giampietro Ribaldi 46), Muhamed Hasa (Juan Pitinari 46), Leonard Krumov (Matteo Canali 68), Dylan De Leeuw (David Sisi 46), Guido Volpi (Taina Fox-Matamua 43), Iacopo Bianchi (Dylan de Leeuw 73), Giacomo Ferrari

Penalties: Dominguez (6, 25, 43)

Glasgow Warriors: Josh McKay, Kyle Steyn (captain), Stafford McDowall (Tom Jordan 72), Sione Tuipulotu, Kyle Rowe (George Horne 57), Ross Thompson, Jamie Dobie, Allan Dell (Nathan McBeth 56), Gregor Hiddleston (Grant Stewart 65), Lucio Sordoni (Zander Fagerson 56), Sintu Manjezi (Scott Cummings 20), Max Williamson (Gregor Brown 65), Ally Miller, Thomas Gordon, Henco Venter (Euan Ferrie 57)

Tries: Hiddleston (31, 40) Steyn (50, 66) Dobie (74) Horne (79)

Conversions: Thompson (32, 42, 51, 76, 79)

Referee: Eoghan Cross (IRFU)