Edinburgh v Zebre: Mark Bennett scores hat-trick in seven-try stroll

Edinburgh get their PRO14 campaign off to an encouraging start

Mark Bennett
Mark Bennett scored three tries as Edinburgh beat Zebre. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson.

Edinburgh 50

Zebre 15


At BT Murrayfield

A MATURE performance which married defensive solidity with attacking verve saw Edinburgh get their PRO14 campaign off to an encouraging beginning. There are tougher opponents in the tournament than Zebre, but the Italians have caused problems for Richard Cockerill’s side in the past, and they threatened to do so here sporadically in the first half before a bit of composure saw the home team take control.

Mark Bennett was on sparkling form, scoring three of his team’s seven tries, and Matt Scott also impressed before leaving the field as a precaution after taking a slight ankle knock. Hooker Dave Cherry may be missing for a couple of weeks after taking a hit to the AC joint, but otherwise Edinburgh appeared to have come through the evening without any damage – and with a significant boost to their morale.

“It’s a good start for us,” Cockerill said. “With all respect to Zebre, you’d expect to get a result against them at home – but in my first two years here, these types of games have been very much an arm-wrestle.

“The execution and the attitude from the boys was first class. It was still a bit clunky at times – you don’t want to let teams back into games and give soft points away, and we did on a couple of occasions. But I thought overall it was a really good start for us, notwithstanding that we know there are tougher days to come.”

A well-executed lineout drive following a penalty gave Edinburgh the lead, with Fraser McKenzie touching down and Jaco van der Walt adding the conversion. After their lacklustre start Zebre began to threaten with ball in hand, then deservedly got on the board through a Francois Brummer penalty.  The stand-off was short with an ill-advised drop-goal attempt from halfway, but at least it showed an element of adventure.

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Yet, while the visitors had a decent cutting edge in attack, they were less impressive in defence, and fell further behind when Bennett got Edinburgh’s second try. A patient drive had taken the home side up to within five metres of the line, and when captain Nic Groom sent a low kick behind the defence, the centre was fastest to react, seizing the loose ball then touching down to leave Van der Walt a simple conversion.

As they had done after their first score, however, Edinburgh took their foot off the gas, and Zebre took advantage. Pinned back in his own 22, Groom attempted a clearance kick which was charged down by Giovanni Licata, who was able to chase the loose ball down to score just short of the dead-ball line.

Groom soon made amends in what was becoming a topsy-turvy game, though, scoring his team’s third converted try with a sprint from the edge of the 22 after a powerful burst down the left by Duhan van der Merwe. Five minutes from half-time, Bennett and Scott combined for the bonus-point score. Pierre Schoeman had a hand in the move too, feeding Scott, who passed out wide to his fellow-centre then accepted the return. The score close to the posts meant another simple two points for Van der Walt, and the fly-half added a penalty in the last seconds of the half, giving his team an apparently insuperable lead.

After a turgid start to the second half, Bennett got his own second try and his team’s fifth by breaking through three tackles from just inside the 22.  Both coaches went through their benches after that, and former Glasgow prop Jamie Bhatti came on to join starters Groom and Nic Haining to make his competitive Edinburgh debut. Two other summer signings, Mike Willemse and Mesu Kunavula, came on too, although it should be said that the most evident impact from the bench during that period came from Zebre’s Federico Mori, who showed a good turn of pace to score a fine solo try with a dozen minutes left.

But Edinburgh soon replied, with substitute Charlie Shiel breaking clear then putting Bennett through for his hat-trick. In the last minute Jamie Farndale added a seventh try from a punt by Simon Hickey, whose conversion attempt was wide of the mark from out on the right.

Edinburgh: D Hoyland; J Farndale, M Bennett, M Scott, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, N Groom; P Schoeman, D Cherry, P Ceccarelli, F McKenzie, M Douglas, L Carmichael, L Crosbie,  N Haining. Substitutes: M Willemse, J Bhatti, M McCallum, M Kunavula, A Miller, C Shiel, S Hickey, G Taylor.

Zebre: C Walker; J Elliott, L Vaccari, E Lucchin,  P Balekana; F Brummer, J Renton; D Fischetti, M Manfredi, A Tarus, M Kearney, I Nagle, I Bianchi, J Meyer, G Licata. Substitutes: M Ceciliani, D Rimpelli, G Zilocchi, G Biagi, A Tauyavuca, N Casilio, P Bruno, F Mori.

Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).

Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: McKenzie, Bennett 3, Groom, Scott, Farndale. Cons: Van der Walt 5, Hickey. Pen: Van der Walt. 

Zebre: Tries: Licata, Mori. Con: Bruno. Pen: Brummer. 

Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 5-0, 7-0, 7-3 half-time, 12-3, 14-3, 14-8, 19-8, 21-8, 26-8, 28-8, 31-8 half-time, 36-8, 38-8, 38-13, 38-15, 43-15, 45-15, 50-15.

Attendance: 4,221.

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About Stuart Bathgate 1394 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.