Edinburgh v Benetton: eight tries for home team in morale-boosting win

Ben Vellacott
Ben Vellacott scores Edinburgh's second try against Benetton. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

Edinburgh 50

Benetton 29

STUART BATHGATE
At the ERS

EDINBURGH wanted a morale-boosting win to take into the new URC season, and that is exactly what they got – although they had to fight hard before eventually getting on top of Benetton and running up the half-century. Notably sharper and more self-confident than they had been in losing to Newcastle a week earlier, Mike Blair’s side played some outstanding rugby, and if they were a little too loose at times, well, that is what pre-season friendlies under a new coach are for.

“It was a great pre-season game, because we’ve got things to work on,” forwards coach Stevie Lawrie said after the match. “I know that’s the party line, but I think the positives were some of the shapes we put in place to score the tries. I thought there were some really good tries scored from across the 15. It was good to see the forwards chip in with a few driven mauls as well.

“But the other thing we will need to address this week, and make sure we’re mindful of, is the territory battle. We need to make sure that we apply pressure in appropriate areas whilst also trying to free up our game. 

“In this process there’s going to be a little bit of looseness, and we saw that in a couple of the scores that we leaked. However, I think it’s better to fully expand and then contract a little bit.

“We’re pushing it in training – we’re constantly training in a manner that is about decision-making. We’ve got to recognise that we’re going to have a couple of ugly bits moving forward, but I think there are a couple of fix-ups there for next week.

“We’ll be very measured. This week we’ll have a good look and see the positives for what they were, but also say ‘Can we make a better decision there?’

Benetton contributed greatly to a game in which both teams played adventurous if at times hazardous rugby, but in the end it was the sniping skills of home players such as Ben Vellacott which carried the day. The scrum-half scored the second of his team’s eight tries and was named man of the match, while winger Damien Hoyland also contributed impressively in both attack and defence. The team may still be in search of a judicious balance between programmed play and improvisation, but they appear to be relishing the experiment under  Blair.

The main concern as they prepare for Saturday’s first United Rugby Championship match at home to Scarlets is the inordinate number of injuries in their squad. Key forwards such as Bill Mata, Ben Toolis and Willem Nel are out at present with various ailments, and they were joined yesterday by Magnus Bradbury, who pulled out after being injured in training, and Nick Haining, who replaced the flanker in the starting line-up but lasted only a few minutes before himself limping off.

However, Lawrie is confident that at least some of those players will be available for the visit of the Welsh side, and sounded distinctly optimistic about Mata’s chances in particular. “We’ve got a  couple returning from the previous week,” he added. “Jamie Hodgson has already started his return-to-play protocols, so he’s a possibility and so is Jaco van der Walt. Bill Mata is a possibility as well – he’s nearing a return, so that’s quite exciting. 

“Maggie picked up a wee tweak in training on Thursday which knocked him out of the line-up today. There were a couple of bashes along the way but we’re hoping they’ll be there or thereabouts for next week. Couple of touch-and-goes.” 

Haining’s departure came during a period of early Italian domination, which ended in Carl Wegner claiming the first try of the game from a lineout after a penalty had been sent to touch. Argentine stand-off Tomas Albornoz added the conversion. 

Edinburgh had barely touched the ball up to then, but they hit back quickly with two tries in as many minutes. The first came after Vellacott had been stopped just short of the line: the ball was recycled, and Mark Bennett came in on an excellent angle to accept a scoring pass from Cammy Hutchinson. Blair Kinghorn, playing at 10, levelled the score with the extra points.

Having seen that bit of quick thinking thwarted, Vellacott was rewarded for another piece of innovation after his team were awarded a penalty in midfield. The scrum-half tapped then punted ahead, and when Luca Sperandio coughed up the ball on the line, he was there to pounce on the error. Kinghorn’s conversion attempt was wide this time, but after that shaky start Edinburgh seemed in control as the first half reached its midway point.

Benetton hit back after 25 minutes, however, with Niccolo Cannone finishing off from close range after Giacomo Nicotera had partially charged down a Kinghorn clearance. Albornoz’ conversion put his team back in front, and that two-point lead soon became five when the playmaker knocked over a penalty from in front of the posts five minutes before the break.

Edinburgh left it late to draw level, but they got there right on time when Damien Hoyland finished off in the left corner after a lineout drive on the right had been halted. Kinghorn converted this time to make it 19-17 at the break. 

That lead lasted little more than a minute of playing time when the match resumed, as a loose pass by Kinghorn was scooped up by Lorenzo Cannone, whose touchdown between the posts left Albornoz a simple two points. The home team replied within two minutes, however, profiting from some confused defending by the Italians. Luke Crosbie finished off, Kinghorn converted, and it was 26-24.

Stuart McInally extended that lead off the back of a lineout with an unconverted try, and then Ben Muncaster finished off some heavy pressure on the line, with Charlie Savala converting. That made it 38-24, and with quarter of an hour to go the game was in the bag.

Hoyland claimed a deserved, unconverted try 10 minutes from time,  finishing off an excellent running move sparked by Savala from inside his own half. Benetton hit back five minutes later when Tommaso Menoncello scored in the right corner, but, as they had done in the first half, it was the home team who had the last word, with  late sub Patrick Harrison scoring in the closing seconds. Savala’s conversion was on the money this time, bringing up the 50 points and making for a pleasingly neat conclusion to a promising afternoon.

Edinburgh: H Immelman; D  Graham, M Bennett, C  Hutchison, D Hoyland; B Kinghorn, B Vellacott; P Schoeman, S McInally, L de Bruin, M  Sykes, G Gilchrist (captain), J Ritchie, L Crosbie, N Haining. Subs: B Venter, H Lloyd, L Atalifo, D Gamble, D Cherry, P Harrison, P Phillips, C Boyle, B Muncaster, H Pyrgos, C Shiel, C Savala, N Chamberlain, J Lang, C Dean, J Venter, J Johnstone, F Owsley, R Moyano, J Blain.

Benetton: E Padovani; R Tavuvara, M Zanon, J Riera, L Sperandio; T Albornoz, D Duvenage (captain); F Zani, G Nicotera, I Nemer, N Cannone, C Wegner, M Zuliani, M Lamaro, R Favretto. Subs: F Alongi, T Benvenuti, C Braley, L Cannone, N Chaparro, M Ioane, M Lazzaroni, G Lucchesi, L Marin, M Meggiato, T Menoncello, L Petrozzi, G Pettinelli, F Ruzza.

Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Bennett, Vellacott, Hoyland 2, Crosbie, McInally, Muncaster, Harrison. Cons: Kinghorn 3, Savala 2.

Benetton: Tries: Wegner, N Cannone, L Cannone, Menoncello. Cons: Albornoz 3. Pen: Albornoz.

Referee: S Grove-White (Scotland).

Attendance: 4,880.

About Stuart Bathgate 1020 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

3 Comments

  1. The jury is out; the honeymoon is ongoing. It seems that the original harem scarem Toonie approach has rubbed off on Blair. Although pre-season friendly games, it is worrying that 8 tries have been conceded. As a self confessed Cockers fan, I would like to have seen him continue, especially as he did not have the chance to see HIS signings influence the team and allow the team to develop further under the long term game plan.. He also took EVERY game seriously and wanted to win. Personally. I would like to have seen a Cockers/Blair scenario, the “best” of both worlds. I don’t think the backs under Hodge did Cockers any favours.

    • Agree it will take a few weeks of ‘real’ games to settle into any new style. Promising start though next week’ll probably be a bit more pragmatic than Saturday’s approach. Interesting to see who plays 15, 10 (need a reliable place kicking option), partners Gilco and what the back row looks like.
      It’ll be also be interesting to see how teams react to the new 50-20 thing. Attacking line outs near the 5-10yrd area an attractive kick option. I wonder if the refs will go completely rogue this season and implement the existing rules like straight scrum feeds and line-outs.

  2. Good game in the sunshine today with lots of entertaining rugby. It was a bit harum scrum at times but certainly better than watching the Cockers era of endless box kicking and pick and go’s. Its always hard to say from these pre season games how good Edinburgh are so well have to wait for the real game in a weeks time but it looks like we should see more fluent rugby than last year.. Having watched the last 2 games I’m not clear what the best Edinburgh side is in a number of positions. Looks like Velacott is first choice scrum half and I don’t like Kinghorn at stand-off. Looks like a few injuries in the forwards and could do with getting Mata and Kunavala back.Saw Bofelli playing against the AB’s today – so we have him to come later in the year – looks a serious player. Roll on the UC.

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