Warriors kept alive their hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the EPCR Challenge Cup with an impressive bonus point win at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma.
Warriors knew that they needed to take five points from their final Pool A match to have any chance to reach the Round of 16. Having accomplished that with a professional performance against a big Italian side Warriors will sit out the final round of pool games in April and they must hope that Toulon can do them a favour by beating Biarritz.
Two first-half tries from acting captain Niall Annett helped to end a 16 months wait for an away win although Zebre, without a win in any competition this season, were only five points adrift at the break. Two late tries gave Zebre a consolation bonus point.
A win on the road may have been some time in coming but this was the sixth time in nine away games this season that Warriors had taken at least a point on their travels.
But Tom Howe scored the all-important fourth try six minutes into the second-half and Ted Hill made an instant impact when he came off the bench by clattering through four tackles to keep Zebre at arm’s length.
Warriors were under pressure in the scrums before the break but a disciplined performance thereafter meant that the first scrum of the second half did not arrive until the 61st minute.
Zebre immediately scored their third try from a series of close- range attacks but Billy Searle capped a fine individual game by stroking over a massive penalty nine minutes from time to snuff out the Italians’ fightback.
Searle, who won the Player of the Match Award, kicked well out of hand and off the tee, scored a try that he started after clever interplay with Justin Clegg and featured prominently in Annett’s second try with a lovely chip that opened up Zebre’s defence and followed up with a long pass to the hooker.
The pack responded to a tough first half with Matt Kvesic and Sam Lewis working furiously at the breakdown and Clegg and Andrew Kitchener securing the lineouts.
Annett opened the scoring from a lineout catch-and-drive and went over again 13 minutes later before Zebre eventually turned their pressure into points with a try from South African centre Erich Cronje.
Searle responded by unleashing Clegg with a perfectly-timed pass, then arriving in support to dot down and convert.
But Zebre were back within a try when wing Giovanni D’Onofrio nipped in for a converted try just before the break.
Warriors’ pragmatic approach in the second half denied Zebre the opportunity to apply more pressure while Howe rounded off a sustained attack with a try in the corner that Searle converted from the touchline.
Hill’s battering ram effort and Searle’s penalty made the game safe but Zebre finished strongly with replacement wing Jacopo Trulla and Enrico Lucchin helping them to a bonus point.
Warriors | 15 Harri Doel (Johnson 76), 14 Tom Howe, 13 Oli Morris (Smith 46), 12 Ashley Beck (CC), 11 Alex Hearle, 10 Billy Searle, 9 Will Chudley (Simpson 50), 1 Ethan Waller (Owen 61), 2 Niall Annett (CC) (Miller 73), 3 Murray McCallum (Judge 50), 4 Justin Clegg, 5 Andrew Kitchener, 6 Matt Kvesic, 7 Sam Lewis (Hill 50), 8 Sione Vailanu (Hatherell 70).
Replacements | 16 Isaac Miller, 17 Kai Owen, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Kyle Hatherell, 20 Ted Hill, 21 Gareth Simpson, 22 Fin Smith, 23 Jack Johnson.
4m | Annett try 0-5
5m | Searle con 0-7
17m | Annett try 0-12
32m | Cronje try 5-12
33m | O’Malley con 7-12
34m | Searle try 7-17
35m | Searle con 7-19
38m | D’Onofrio try 12-19
39m | O’Malley con 14-19
45m | Howe try 14-24
46m | Searle con 14-26
58m | Hill try 14-31
59m | Searle con 14-33
68m | Trulla try 19-33
71m | Searle pen 19-36
78m | Lucchin try 24-36
79m | Rizzi con 26-36