DESPITE their opponents picking up a red-card after just 10 minutes, and being reduced to 13 men by yellow-cards twice during match, Edinburgh could not impose themselves and ended up suffering a demoralising defeat in Treviso.
They were bullied out of the contest at the breakdown by a Benetton team who gave a masterclass in how to play with a man (or more) less. Mike Blair‘s side had travelled to Italy looking for a third away win on the bounce, but they were sent home with their tails between their legs, knowing that a significant improvement will be required when Munster come calling at the DAM Health Stadium next weekend.
Afterwards, Blair was tight-lipped about whether this result will change his thinking on how quickly he re-introduces his rested international contingent, but he did concede that the performance fell well below the standards the squad demand of themselves.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” said the head coach. “We knew this was going to be a really tough game with the team that they picked. Benetton were excellent and managed the game really well after the red card. They were really smart. But I said to the players at half-time that the game was still in our hands.
“We’ve seen it before, though, with red cards and how it can really galvanise a team. It brings emotion into it and gives them that backs-to-the-wall type of mentality. But we’ve got to be better than that. We’ve got to see that as an opportunity. I think we waited and thought that [the red card] was going to be the thing that won us the game.
“But that wasn’t the case. It’s your physicality, your relentless nature of attack, persistence in defence, your smarts – that’s what wins you games. Collectively, we were just off it.
“This period is an opportunity for the club,” he added in an attempt to hit a more positive tone. “This group of players won away against Zebre and Cardiff, so there’s been some real positives.
“This was a tough game to come back to after the break for a few weeks. We were just off it in a couple of areas and that’s something we need to fix moving forward to next week.”
Edinburgh started positively and took the lead through a second minute penalty from Charlie Savala, and the odds swung further in their favour when Matteo Minozzi raised his boot after collecting a high ball in the air and caught Wes Goosen in the face, resulting in a red-card just 10 minutes into his debut for the club.
But it was Benetton who reacted most positively to this match-defining moment, scrambling a turnover for Tomas Albornoz to send a 50-22 downfield, setting up a spell of pressure which eventually yielded a penalty in front of the posts from a Marshall Sykes high-tackle. The hosts opted for the scrum and were rewarded for their ambition when a long pass from Albornoz straight from the set-piece created the space for Marcus Watson to scurry over on the right.
Questions will be asked during the de-brief of this match as to how the six attackers of Benetton managed to outflank the seven defenders of Edinburgh off first phase ball (centre Matt Currie defending out of position on the wing as Goosen undertook an HIA is no excuse).
Benetton attacked again straight from the restart and it took some excellent work from Jamie Hodgson to turn Lorenzo Cannone onto his back in the tackle and win a holding-on penalty which allowed Edinburgh to activate the pressure-release valve.
Benetton compounded that first penalty with another one straight from the line-out when Nahuel Tatez Chapparo impeded Henry Pyrgos at the back of the maul from an offside position, but handling errors and soft turnovers meant that the visitors could not build any momentum and they soon found themselves defending desperately on their own line again.
After a sequence of penalties was conceded by the bedraggled Scottish side, Goosen saw yellow for offside, and Pyrgos was lucky not to receive the same sanction and a penalty try less than two minutes later for a deliberate knock-on on his own line, but referee Craig Evans decide that the covering Henry Immelman was in a position to prevent the try.
Benetton kept pushing the accelerator, and got their reward when Watson punched up the middle off scrum ball before scrum-half Dewaldt Duvenage sent a long pass back towards the right wing, where Goosen was taking his enforced sabbatical on the naughty step, and Sebastian Negri was lurking unmarked to finish off.
Edinburgh’s front-row were aggrieved that had been held onto by their opposite numbers at the scrum meaning they were slow in joining the defensive line, but them’s the breaks when you are on the back-foot.
The visitors started the second 40 minutes in fine fashion with Damien Hoyland chasing down Pyrgos’ box-kick and Savala delaying his pass perfectly to send Immelman over for their opening try of the contest, and Savala converted to make it all-square.
However, a sloppy knock-on from Immelman and a dominant home scrum allowed Benetton to immediately reclaim the initiative with yet another penalty kicked to the corner, from which Lorenzo Cannone scrambled over for home try number three.
Edinburgh tried to battle their way back to scoreboard parity and spent several minutes deep in Benetton’s 22, but their attack lacked incision, and despite the hosts being reduced to 13 men when Federico Ruzza was sin-binned as a team punishment for persistent infringements, they couldn’t find a way through until just a few minutes left of that period with two extra men (in fact Benetton were down to 11 at this point as two players were down injured).
Nick Haining stepped back inside and strode through three tackles then released Immelman on the right with a basketball style pass, and Savala nailed the touchline conversion to make it all square at the start of the final quarter.
But once again Edinburgh failed to build on the promising position they had battled themselves into, and Benetton once again showed their ability and character with another forceful passage of play which culminated in Duvenage sending an exquisite chip into the in-goal area for Rhyno Smith to race onto and score, setting up an easy conversion for Jacob Umaga which made it a seven-point game once again.
Edinburgh tried to rouse themselves during the final 10 minutes, and Benetton made life hard for themselves by missing touch from a scrum penalty, then picking up another yellow-card and a penalty just outside their own 22 when Smith caught Ben Vellacott with a swinging arm at the back of a ruck. But the visitors twice failed to control possession at the back of the line-out maul, meaning they returned home with just a losing bonus point.
Benetton: R Smith; M Watson (T Menoncello 58), I Brex, M Zanon, M, Minozzi; T Albornoz (J Umaga 54), D Duvenage (A Garbisi 78),; N Tetaz-Chapparo (I Nemer 49, S Ferrari 71), G Lucchesi ( G Nicotera 49), S Ferrari (T Pasquali, 40), (S Scrafton 49, G Lucchesi 63), F Ruzza, S Negri (N Cannone 61), M Zuliani (G Pettinelli 61), L Cannone.
Edinburgh: H Immelman; D Hoyland, M Currie (C Dean 65), J Lang, W Goosen (C Dean 13-23); C Savala, H Pyrgos (B Vellacott 55); B Venter (J Jack, 77), S McInally (P Harrison 71), A Williams (L Atalifo 55), M Sykes, J Hodgson (G Young 69), M Haining, L Crosbie, B Muncaster (C Boyle 58).
Benetton: Try: Watson, Negri, L Cannone, Smith; Con: Albornoz, Umaga.
Edinburgh: Try: Immelman 2; Con: Savala 2; Pen: Savala.
Scoring sequence (Benetton first): 0-3; 5-3; 10-3 (h-t) 10-8; 10-10; 15-10; 17-10; 17-15; 17-17; 22-17; 24-17.
Yellow cards –
Benetton: Ruzza (53mins), Smith (78mins)
Edinburgh: Goosen (33mins)
Red cards –
Benetton: Minozzi (10mins)