The Free Staters showed their fighting spirit throughout the match but handling errors and penalties conceded allowed the hosts to apply consistent pressure, and their effective finishing saw them score five tries to two by the visitors.
Zebre had the upper hand in the first half with their effective balance between hard-running by the backs and strong forward play earning them two tries to one by the Toyota Cheetahs, while their flyhalf Carlo Canna kept the scoreboard ticking with two penalty goals.
The South Africans struck first with a well-worked try from a rolling maul seeing Wilmar Arnoldi (hooker) cross the chalk in the seventh minute, but the only other points they managed to add in the half was a penalty goal by George Whitehead (flyhalf) in the 32nd minute.
The hosts, in turn, applied pressure at will after a slow start in which they found themselves defending their tryline with intent for several minutes as the Toyota Cheetahs tried one rolling maul after another.
Zebre winger, Charlie Walker, earned the first points for his team thanks to some good vision on attack by the side to spread the ball out wide and draw the defence, and Canna added the conversion and two subsequent penalty goals.
They continued to make their presence felt in the dying minutes of the half with Johan Meyer (flanker) touching down from a rolling maul to stretch their lead to 20-8.
The hosts built on this momentum in the second half with Joshua Renton (scrumhalf) scoring in the third quarter thanks to a clever show-and-go after gathering the ball from the base of a ruck, and the conversion pushed them 19 points ahead on the scoreboard.
The Toyota Cheetahs fought back with a well-worked try by Tian Meyer (scrumhalf) after drawing in the defence with a rolling maul and spreading the ball out wide, but this was cancelled out almost immediately after as Zebre produced a good display of attacking rugby, which allowed Walker to score his second try, sealing the hosts’ bonus point.
This inflated their confidence as they added their fifth try by Giulio Bisegni (centre) with minutes to play compliments of their enterprising attack and Canna landed his fifth conversion, sealing a rewarding 41-13 victory for the home side.
Zebre 41 (20) – Tries: Charlie Walker (2), Johan Meyer, Joshua Renton, Giulio Bisegni. Conversions: Carlo Canna (5). Penalty Goals: Carlo Canna (2).
Toyota Cheetahs 13 (8) – Tries: Wilmar Arnoldi, Tian Meyer. Penalty Goal: George Whitehead.