STUART BATHGATE @ the DAM Health Stadium
AFTER three defeats in a row in the URC, Edinburgh returned to winning ways in style tonight with a clinical demolition of a very limited Benetton side. The Italians had won three of their first four outings, but never looked like making it four out of five.
Granted, it did take Edinburgh around half an hour to take the lead after a Tomas Albornoz penalty had given the visitors an early advantage. But once they did get in front, they were unstoppable.
The first half, in which they only scored twice, was somewhat laboured as they battled their way into a strong breeze. But with the winds at their back after the break they began to score at will, with Duhan van der Merwe celebrating his return to the ranks with two touchdowns and his fellow-winger Darcy Graham also scoring twice.
Head coach Mike Blair invariably remains calm at the end of games no matter their outcome, and he was certainly not getting carried away by this result, no matter how pleased he must have been by the form shown by his players. “We had a quality side out and the expectation on us is to do well,” he said. “We focus on the privilege of playing, the enjoyment of playing in front of our fans and showing them what we can do and not worrying that we have to win.
“I want us to enjoy being out here. Part of the enjoyment is going into the dressing room feeling we have been ruthless and not taken the foot off the throat. I was pleased with that.”
He was just as pleased with the self-discipline his team showed as they fought patiently to get on top despite the conditions. “It is a decent 12-, 14-point wind,” he added. “And when we gave away the first three points in the first few minutes I thought we had given them an extra three points to start with.
“We controlled territory in that first half as well as you can into the wind. Then when we got points after half-time it gave us some impetus and we were able to stay on top of Benetton after that.
“They made a few changes from last week, but they had quality players and an international front row so they still had a strong team and still needed putting away. But our energy and intent was better tonight.”
After Albornoz’s early penalty, Edinburgh eventually got in front thanks to a Sam Skinner try – his first for the team. Two forays into midfield by Graham did the initial damage, and when the ball was recycled right from the second breakdown, the lock was there on the touchline – Graham’s usual berth – to score.
Emiliano Boffelli failed to add the conversion – his first of five misses from nine attempts. But he did succeed with his kick after Luke Crosbie touched down from close range for Edinburgh’s second following heavy pressure.
Knowing that at 12-3 the job was at most half-done, Edinburgh went for the jugular straight from the restart, and got their reward when Pierre Schoeman finished off from a couple of metres out. That put the home side two full scores up and on track for the bonus point – which duly arrived just three minutes later when Van der Merwe shrugged off one would-be tackler and sidestepped a second to touch down close to the posts.
The conversion was good this time, and the game was in the bag. Just to make sure, though, Graham added a fifth minutes later, running in unopposed on the right after an excellent break by Mark Bennett was taken on by Blair Kinghorn and Boffelli.
The Italians had little or nothing to offer by way of response, and they soon fell further behind when WP Nel forced his way over from less than a metre out. Boffelli then scored his team’s seventh as they kept up the pressure, before Van der Merwe got his second 10 minutes from time after getting up in support of an Adam McBurney break. .
Toa Halafihi got a late consolation try for the visitors. But Edinburgh had the last word when Graham kicked ahead up the right, gathered and touched down.
Edinburgh: Tries: Skinner, Crosbie, Schoeman, Van der Merwe 2, Graham 2, Nel, Boffelli. Cons: Boffelli 4.
Benetton: Try: Halafihi. Pen: Albornoz.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 0-3, 5-3, 10-3, 12-3 half-time, 17-3, 22-3, 24-3, 29-3, 34-3, 36-3, 41-3, 46-3, 48-3, 48-8, 53-8.
Edinburgh: E Boffelli; D Graham, M Bennett, J Lang (C Dean 62), D van der Merwe; B Kinghorn (C Savala 59), H Pyrgos (C Shiel 59); P Schoeman (B Venter 58), D Cherry (A McBurney 58), W Nel (L de Bruin 58), S Skinner (J Hodgson 54), G Gilchrist (captain), N Haining, L Crosbie, V Mata (B Muncaster 54).
Benetton: E Padovani (G Avaca 28); M Bellini, T Menoncello, M Zanon, R Tavuyara (F Drago 68); T Albornoz, M Albanese; T Gallo (F Zani 52), G Lucchesi (M Arroyo 59), N Tetaz (T Pasquali 52), M Lazzaroni (captain, N Piantella 71), C Wegner, A Steyn (A Izekor 48), T Halafihi, H Time-Stowers.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuisen (South Africa).