Zebre Parma 10
IT WAS a struggle, but in the end Edinburgh got what they had gone to Parma to get, securing the bonus-point win in stoppage time at the end of the game. Such a conclusive outcome had seemed improbable for the bulk of the contest, but some judicious substitutions by head coach Mike Blair saw the visitors home, with three of their four tries coming in the last 20 minutes or so.
That makes it three wins and a draw from five starts in the URC, which now takes a break during the Autumn Nations Series. It has to go down as a more than satisfactory start to the season, all the more so given the fact that the team have been adapting to a very different game style under Blair. If they are still very much a work in progress, the progress is very evident, not least in the persistence they apply when things are not going their way.
“It wasn’t ideal in terms of the performance, but we’ve got through these five games pretty successfully,” Blair said after Ben Vellacott’s last-gasp try had secured the full five match points. “There’s still a lot of growth in us and a lot of areas we can get better. But coming away to Italy and taking five points is definitely a positive.
“We’re a club who are at the start of a journey together. It’s good to see the growth in terms of where we’re going.”
Edinburgh are now three points ahead of Glasgow Warriors, and another three ahead of Benetton. The pecking order between those three teams and Zebre will matter at the end of the season, because the best of the four will be guaranteed a place in the Champions Cup. But for the time being at least, Blair is more concerned with how his team fare in individual head-to-head games.
“To be honest, I’ve tried not to look at the table too much,” he added. “It’s once you get to the business end of the season things like that become more important. Especially with the way the league is just now and the different conferences, there’s all sorts going on.”
A side entry at a ruck gave Edinburgh the chance to take an early lead at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, and Blair Kinghorn knocked the penalty over from 25 metres. Another ruck offence in a similar position could have given the stand-off an easy chance to double the lead, but he went for touch instead and the lineout drive was halted.
It was a curiously ambitious decision not to take the three points, and the visitors’ failure to extend their lead put a spring in the step of Zebre, who took the lead with the game’s opening try after quarter of an hour. A long clearance by Carlo Canna seemed to have gone dead, but the assistant referee ruled it was a lineout to Zebre for a 50-22. After a clean take, the maul drove close to the line, and when the ball was spread left Pierre Bruno had an easy run in for the try. Canna converted.
As Glasgow learned last week before eventually claiming an unconvincing win at the same venue, the more chaotic the contest becomes, the more Zebre thrive. Edinburgh needed to impose some structure onto proceedings, but a decent attack after 25 minutes broke down when they tried to do too much too soon. They were awarded a penalty for an off-the-ball tackle on captain Jamie Ritchie, but again went to touch and again failed to turn pressure into points.
Moments later Ritchie superbly fielded a high ball and launched the best attack of the match up to that point. Again, however, impatience at the crucial point was the visitors’ undoing, with Bill Mata this time being the one to attempt an offload rather than recycling.
The pressure was mounting, though, and it told when Jack Blain finished off on the right after good work by Kinghorn and Ritchie among others. Kinghorn’s conversion attempt went wide, but Edinburgh were deservedly back in front. They had time before the break to stretch that one-point lead, but were again thwarted by the tenacious home defence.
Both sides continued to commit unforced errors in the opening stages of the second half, with an excellent break by Henry Immelman being no more than a brief respite from the frustration. Something needed to be done to drag the match out of the rut into which it had settled, and with half an hour to play Blair went to his bench, bringing on scrum-half Ben Vellacott and loosehead prop Boan Venter.
Within minutes the visitors scored again. Once more they turned down the three points to go to touch after Zebre had been penalised for side entry, and this time the venture paid off, with Stuart McInally scoring from a well-controlled lineout drive. Kinghorn was off target again, so it was still a one-score game.
Not for long, however. Just before the hour mark, Zebre back-row Jimmy Tuivaiti was yellow-carded for not allowing Vellacott to go ten metres from a tap penalty. Within a minute of going a man up, Edinburgh made it count, as Venter finished off after another solid drive.
Kinghorn managed the two points this time to take his team’s tally to 20, but there was still a lot of life in the home side, and they soon cut the deficit with a penalty from substitute fly-half Antonio Rizzi. Charlie Savala replaced Blain and took over at stand-off from Kinghorn, who moved to the wing. Within a minute the new man came close to scoring the bonus-point try, but he was held up over the line.
Restored to their full complement, Zebre finished the game energetically. They denied further attempts by Edinburgh to secure the bonus point all the way until the final play, when Vellacott slipped in on the blindside after a maul had been stopped on the line. Kinghorn converted.
“When Ben came on, he definitely raised the tempo for us,” Blair said of the summer signing. “It can be good having someone like that to come off the bench against a tiring front five in the opposition.”
Zebre Parma: Try: Bruno. Con: Canna. Pen: Rizzi.
Edinburgh: Tries: Blain, McInally, Venter, Vellacott. Cons: Kinghorn 2. Pen: Kinghorn.
Scoring sequence (Zebre first): 0-3, 5-3, 7-3, 7-8 half-time, 7-13, 7-18, 7-20, 10-20, 10-25, 10-27.
Zebre Parma: J Laloifi (M Biondelli 58); P Bruno, G Bisegni (captain), E Lucchin, E Cronje; C Canna (A Rizzi 61), A Fusco (G Palazzani 66); D Fischetti (P Buonfiglio 67), L Bigi (M Ceciliani 64), E Bello (I Neculai 58), D Sisi, L Krumov (A Zambonin 68), J Tuivaiti, L Andreani (P Leavasa 64), R Giammarioli.
Edinburgh: H Immelman; J Blain (C Savala 65), J Johnstone, C Hutchison (C Dean 73), D Hoyland; B Kinghorn, C Shiel (B Vellacott 49); P Schoeman (B Venter 49), S McInally (D Cherry 53), L de Bruin (L Atalifo 60), J Hodgson, P Phillips (M Bradbury 68), J Ritchie (captain), L Crosbie, V Mata (M Kunavula 58).
Yellow card: Zebre: Tuivaiti 59.
Referee: F Murphy (Ireland).