EDINBURGH came within one play of returning from Italy with a full five-point win, but they were denied at the death when Benetton’s substitute stand-off Leonardo Marin dropped a goal to give his team a single-point victory. Mike Blair’s side still got two points in defeat from this richly entertaining game at the Stadio Monigo in Treviso, but they could and arguably should have had a lot more after being ahead for much of the game.
If there was a lot to like about Edinburgh’s attacking play, there were also concerns about the high unforced-error count. Jaco van der Walt and Henry Immelman were both inaccurate with important kicks, but the pack made mistakes too, notably when they gave away possession at a very late lineout.
“Pretty gutted,” was Blair’s verdict. “We put ourselves in a position to win the game but didn’t do it. We let them back into the game, which was disappointing.
“When we got our game going we looked very strong on the ball, very strong in defence, but we just need to get that consistency and get that going throughout the full 80 minutes. Benetton did well to get back into it and it was an excellent kick at the end for the win – but we gave them that opportunity.
“The upsides are there for everyone to see. There was positive stuff in there, but it was frustrating, as we should have got the win today.”
Benetton took a fifth-minute lead when hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi brushed off a Stuart McInally tackle and barged all too easily through the remnants of the visiting defence. Tomas Albornoz‘s conversion attempt went wide. Incisive breaks by Darcy Graham and Mark Bennett came close to giving Edinburgh an immediate reply, but the defence was able to mop up.
With both teams committed to all-out attack, it was only a matter of time before another try was scored, and it came after quarter of an hour, going Edinburgh’s way. A 50-22 kick by James Lang gave them an excellent position, Jamie Hodgson and Jamie Ritchie carried on from the lineout, and in the end Willem Nel finished off from close range. Van der Walt’s conversion put his side in front.
Benetton had already sent one kickable penalty to touch only to mess up the line-out, and they repeated the mistake midway through the half, knocking on when a score looked increasingly likely. But Edinburgh failed to clear their lines properly from the scrum, and when they were penalised for offside, the decision this time was to go for the posts, with Tomas Albornoz putting his team back in front.
The lead barely lasted two minutes. Ben Vellacott’s tap penalty did not get far at first, but after another couple of phases, the scrum-half used his scorching pace to race clear to the line from around 35 metres out. Van der Walt converted to make it a six-point lead.
Edinburgh could have stretched that to nine when they were awarded a penalty in front of the posts, but they went for the lineout instead and were eventually rewarded for their courage when Vellacott got his second score. Viliame Mata and Nel were both held up on the line, but then Vellacott finished off with a quarterback sneak from the bottom of the ruck. Van der Walt failed to convert this time.
Benetton were by no means out of the contest, and hit back when winger Monty Ioane collected an Albornoz punt to the corner and touched down after the Edinburgh defence had become too narrow. The extra two points cut Edinburgh’s lead to 15-19, and that was how it remained at the break as what had been a frenzied first half ended in a fairly becalmed final few minutes.
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Ioane denied Boan Venter a try early in the second half, touching down just before the prop got to a kick through following a brilliant mazy run from Graham. Then at the other end Immelman was the one to prevent his opposite number from scoring after another kick and chase.
Albornoz was wide with a drop-goal attempt as Benetton tried to edge their way back into the contest, but then Edinburgh stretched their lead, securing the try bonus point too. After sending a penalty to touch, they drove from the lineout, and in the end McInally got the unconverted score, touching down in the right corner.
The Italians were far from finished, and closed to six points when Marin knocked over a simple penalty. They lost replacement hooker Giacomo Nicotera for ten minutes when he was yellow-carded for obstructing Graham off the ball, but persisted in attack, and got their reward when Lucchesi powered over for his second try from close range.
Marin’s conversion put his team back in front, but within a minute Edinburgh were back in front through a long-range penalty by Van der Walt. The game was still very much alive going into the closing five minutes, and when an Immelman clearance went out on the full, the home team launched a threatening attack.
Ritchie won a vital turnover to end that offence, but the same player was penalised in the 83rd minute. Marin sent it to touch, clean possession was won, and after what felt like a dozen phases later, the substitute profited from some solid drives by his pack to send the ball sailing through the posts.
Benetton: A Coetzee; R Tavuyara, T Menoncello, J Riera (T Benvenuti 72), M Ioane; T Albornoz (L Marin 55), D Duvenage (captain) (C Braley 52); N Chaparro (F Zani 46), G Lucchesi (G Nicotera 46), T Pasquali (I Nemer 49), C Wegner (N Cannone 46), F Ruzza, G Pettinelli, M Lamaro, R Favretto (L Cannone 49).
Edinburgh: H Immelman; D Graham, M Bennett, J Lang, J Blain; J van der Walt (C Dean 79), B Vellacott; B Venter (P Schoeman 45), S McInally (D Cherry 55), W Nel (L Atalifo 67), J Hodgson (P Phillips 52), G Gilchrist (captain), J Ritchie, C Boyle (L Crosbie 64), V Mata.
Referee: C Evans (WRU).
Benetton: Tries: Lucchesi 2, Ioane. Cons: Albornoz, Marin. Pens: Albornoz, Marin. Drop goal: Marin.
Edinburgh: Tries: Nel, Vellacott 2, McInally. Cons: Van der Walt 2. Pen: Van der Walt.
Scoring sequence (Benetton first): 5-0; 5-5; 5-7; 8-7; 8-12; 8-14; 8-19; 13-19; 15-19 (h-t) 15-24; 18-24; 23-24; 25-24; 25-27; 28-27.
Yellow card –
Benetton: Nicotera (63mins).