RICHARD COCKERILL was not particularly happy with his team’s performance in this match, despite them picking up a vitally important, morale-boosting win after three defeats on the bounce, but his dissatisfaction with his players’ jitteriness and lack of accuracy pales to nothing in comparison to the ire he expressed at the way the game was officiated.
This has become something of a one-man crusade for the combustible Englishman, but he may just have a point. Apart from anything else, it is bizarre that the PRO14 refereeing department continues to make decisions like appointing an Italian referee to a game in which an Italian team is in action against a team from another country. Cockerill did not say that Marius Mitrea sided with the opposition, but his nationality does create a grey area which doesn’t help the credibility of the league.
“I will have to watch it again, but it’s hard to play any type of rugby when the game is, in my opinion, poorly officiated,” said Cockerill.
“When [Dougie] Fife runs 50-metres and the guy is then offside he has to go to the bin. We’ve had some really, really bad calls in the last four weeks.”
“This week there seemed to be no offside line, for the competition to have any credibility they have to sort out the officiating because I have never encountered anything like it in anything else I have coached.”
“We can all see it. We kicked the penalty to go in front then the prop is two metres offside from the restart – that’s a scrum back to us, that’s a law of the game, so why is it just ignored? It is a pretty important point in the game – why would you ignore that? Ring Greg Garner [Elite Referee Manager for the PRO14] and ask why important parts of this game were ignored. I can see it, you can see it, everyone lese can see it – but the rally important person who is stood a metre away chooses to ignore it. There has to be consistency and it has to be fair.
Asked if there should be referees from neutral countries, Cockerill replied: “I don’t care, they just have to do their job properly. But will he be accountable for that performance? My players will be, I will be, will he be?”
Turning his attention to the players, Cockerill congratulated his own team on squeezing out a win and praised the energy and ambition of their opponents but ultimately declared himself pretty frustrated by what he had witnessed.
“They played well and they’ll cause teams problems with the style that they are playing but we have to be better – that wasn’t a good enough performance. We have to be more accurate. We’ve got a lot to learn and we’ve got to learn quickly – but it’s a work in progress,” he said.
“Credit to the players, they found a way to win the game – which is, ultimately, the most important thing.”
Despite living on scraps for most of the first half, the home team managed to take a 10-5 lead into the break thanks to a magnificent 45-metre rampage to the line from hooker Stuart McInally in the 28th minute, which was converted by Duncan Weir.
That score, and an eighth minute penalty from Jason Tovey was set against a Johan Meyer try for the visitors, which was fully deserved in terms of the general tenor of the first half, but could have been avoided by Edinburgh had Blair Kinghorn and Tom Brown not fallen off tackles during the build-up.
Weir extended Edinburgh’s lead with a penalty just before the hour mark, conceded when Zebre killed the ball at a ruck in a desperate attempt to slow the game down after a piercing break-out from Dougie Fife. It was this offence Cockerill was referring to when he asked why a yellow-card had not been shown.
Just when it looked liked the home team might be edging into a position of safety, Nathan Fowles gifted seven points with a lazy clearance from the base of ruck just a few yards from Edinburgh’s line, which ricocheted off Marcello Violi, who then pounced on the loose ball as it bounced over the try line, to set up an easy conversion which closed the gap to just a single point.
Violi then put Zebre ahead with a straightforward penalty from directly in front of the posts and Edinburgh’s long suffering supporters must have felt they had seen this plot twist before.
But contrary to expectations, the home side managed to recapture some sort of composure, and with Allan Dell making his first appearance of the season off the bench at loose-head prop, and Simon Berghan on at tight-head, a scrum penalty was secured which allowed Weir to switch the scoreboard advantage back towards the hosts.
There was a short delay while centre James Johnstone received treatment before being stretchered from the pitch, before Edinburgh’s resurgent scrum squeezed another penalty which should have allowed them to set up camp deep inside Zebre territory during an increasingly fractious final five minutes.
But a lapse on concentration allowed Zebre one last crack at picking up a third consecutive win – which would be the first time they had achieved that in the competition – and it was left to Edinburgh’s now completely dominant scrum to keep calamity at bay.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn (D Weir 23); D Fife, J Johnstone (P Burleigh 72), P Burleigh (R Fruean 53), T Brown; J Tovey, N Fowles; D Marfo (A Dell 58), S McInally, W Nel (S Berghan 47), B Toolis (A Bresler 57), G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, J Ritchie, C du Preez (L Crosbie 62).
Zebre: M Minozzi; M Bellini (C Gaffney 40), T Boni, T Castello, G Venditti; C Canna, M Violi; A Lovotti (A de Marchi 62), O Fabiani (L Luus 62), D Chistolini (R Tenga 47), D Sisi, G Biagi (L Krumow 52), G Licata, J Meyer, R Giammarioli (D Minnie 57).
Edinburgh: Try: McInally; Con: Weir; Pen: Tovey, Weir 2.
Zebre: Try: Meyer, Violi; Con: Violi; Pen: Violi.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 3-0; 3-5 8-5; 10-5 (h-t) 13-5; 13-10; 13-12; 13-15; 16-15.
Referee: M Mitrea