Edinburgh v Zebre: ugly home win keeps home play-off quest alive

Mike Blair's side struggle against United Rugby Championship's weakest team

Pierre Schoeman's try was the decisive moment as Edinburgh struggled to victory over Zebre. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Pierre Schoeman's try was the decisive moment as Edinburgh struggled to victory over Zebre. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

Edinburgh 29

Zebre 26

DAVID BARNES @ The DAM Health Stadium

TAKE the points and move on. Playing this badly against the worst team in the competition isn’t a disaster if you get away with it, which Edinburgh managed to do here thanks to a 77th minute penalty from Jaco van der Walt which snatched a bonus-point win to keep the capital men in the hunt for a top four finish in the United Rugby Championship.

Edinburgh know they are going to have to be an awful lot better to get anything out of two potentially season-defining home matches during the next fortnight (against second in URC table Ulster next Saturday then Wasps in the quarter-final of the European Challenge Cup seven days later), and head coach Mike Blair is confident his team can make the necessary adjustments.

That the hosts played 50 minutes of this game with 14 men after the yellow-carding off Glen Young midway through the first half and the red-carding of Marshall Sykes right after the break is significant. They deserve some credit for finding a way to win despite this disadvantage, but they can’t keep making life so hard or themselves.

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“There was an air of over confidence during the week coming into this game,” conceded Blair afterwards. “Eyes were maybe on the Ulster and Glasgow games coming up. With scoring early, sometimes everybody relaxes a little bit. We were off it today in terms of our speed to contact and it was not great, but it could be a lot worse. We still walk away with a bonus point victory and we are in the top eight and still have the potential to go top four so all is not lost … but we have to get better.

“We kept making the same mistakes and we cannot keep doing that, but at the same time I thought there was still some very good game management when we were down to 14 men,” he added. “We will be right up for the game next week and we will put a performance in.”

It all looked so promising when Mark Bennett took advantage of some dozy back-field covering by Zebre to gobble up Blair Kinghorn‘s speculative grubber and touch down with just 46 second played, but that ended up being the last time Edinburgh produced any of the swagger we have got used to seeing from them at the DAM Health Stadium this season.

They did continue to dominate possession and territory for the next 10 minutes, but were not incisive, and then surrendered the initiative with a deluge of gameplay errors and disciplinary lapses, which included an interception pass thrown by Kinghorn, a needless penalty conceded by Freddie Owsley for taking out Jacopo Trulla well away from the ball, and a penalty try coughed up byYoung for a neck high tackle on Simone Gesi.

Young also saw yellow for that offence, and Edinburgh continued to flounder whilst a man down. Kinghorn kicked a penalty 15 yards from the Zebre try-line dead, the hosts then surrendered 50 yards off first phase scrum ball, and were penalised for collapsing the next scrum. Immediately after Young’s return, the hosts managed to salvage possession from an overthrown line-out, only for the counter-attack to fall apart when Owsley butchered the pass which should have sent Kinghorn clear up the left touchline.

Zebre finally took advantage of their opponents’ tardiness when, after a sustained period of pressure, Gabriele Venditti offloaded out of contact to send Junior Laloifi in for the away team’s second try with five minutes of the first half remaining. Antonio Rizzi failed with the conversion.

That stunned Edinburgh back to life, and they recaptured the lead just before the break when Henry Pyrgos made ground from the base of a scrum then offloaded from the deck to set-up the try for Cammy Hutchison, converted again by van der Walt.


It looked ripe for Edinburgh to kick on after this lacklustre first half, but the opposite happened with the hosts coughing up an easy try within two minutes of the restart, scored by Gesi, who handed off Hamish Watson and Mesu Kunavula then skipped past Kinghorn to score a try out of nothing.

And it got even worse for the hosts when Sykes was red-carded after his shoulder made contact with Danilo Fischetti’s head during a ruck clear out. The Italian prop had to go off for an HIA, but was able to return to the fray eight minutes later.

It was time for Edinburgh to dig deep, and they did, with that man Pierre Schoeman once again stepping up to lead from the front, burrowing over for a try which put his team back in front, imbuing some belief in home ranks whilst simultaneously knocking Zebre’s senses of conviction that this might be the game where they claim a first win of this URC campaign.

Zebre then gifted Edinburgh the bonus-point try when replacement scrum-half Chris Cook threw a crazy pass to nobody in particular which was picked up by Bennett, who did well to outfox Rizzi on his way to the line but then almost blew it when he was a bit too relaxed touching down one-handed and was lucky that the referee and TMO did not rule Erich Cronje had not knocked from his grasp before it was grounded.

That was a tough blow for Zebre but they wouldn’t lie down, and David Sisi touched down beneath the kindling with five minutes to go, with quick-witted Tom O’Malley doing brilliantly to pick up the ball and fire home the conversion by drop-goal after it had fallen off the tee to square the match.

A draw would have been a fair result but Edinburgh managed to find one last opportunity to salvage the win, and van der Walt stepped up to kick the decisive points from a not rolling away penalty.


Teams  –

Edinburgh: J van der Walt; R Moyano (B Vellacott 79), M Bennett (C Hutchison 70), C Hutchison (J Lang 60), F Owsley (M Currie 40); B Kinghorn, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman (H Courtney 68), D Cherry (A McBurney 68), L Atalifo (A Williams 40-75), M Sykes, G Young, B Muncaster, H Watson (C Boyle 61§), M Kunavula (J Hodgson 47).

Zebre: J Laloifi (L Pani 64); J Trulla, E Cronjé, E Lucchin, S Gesi; A Rizzi (T O’Malley 64), A Fusco (C Cook, 54); D Fischetti (P Buonfiglio 44-52, 65), L Bigi, I Neculai (E Bello 48), G Venditti (D Sisi 48), A Zambonin, L Mitchell (G Ribaldi 65), M Mbandà (L Andreani 50-63), T Fox-Matamua.

Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)


Scorers –

Edinburgh: Tries: Bennett 2, Hutchison, Schoeman; Con: van der Walt 3; Pen: van der Walt.

Zebre: Tries: Penalty Try, Laloifi, Gesi, Sisi; Con: Rizzi, O’Malley.

Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-7; 7-12; 12-12; 14-12; 14-17; 14-19; 19-19; 21-19; 26-19l; 26-24; 26-26; 29-26.


Yellow cards –

Edinburgh: Young (13mins)


Red cards –

Edinburgh: Sykes (44mins)


Attendance: 5,818.

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About David Barnes 3820 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. I have to make a further comment on Kinghorn as I find it unfair that every time Edinburgh don’t play their best its somehow all about Kinghorn. He has been outstanding in recent games and continually poses a threat with ball in hand – look at the Connacht, Sharks, Bath games and many others. I agree that his line kicking to touch needs work. I sit in the Murrayfield stand and can see the line he takes and whilst he can kick the ball a mile, he takes far too conservative an angle on his kicks and does appear to slice a few. Regards being anonymous in the 2nd half – that perhaps was due to the fact the Pyrgos chose to endlessly box kick when we were down to 14 men. Was it not his clever grubber that led to the opening Bennet try. I thought he had proven his doubters wrong but clearly not some.

    • I think there are still legitimate doubts about him as a 10 and fairly clear he’s mainly playing there due to paucity of options in Scotland.

      His game management, line kicking and place kicking are all well under par for a 10 at any competitive URC side, let alone test side. He doesn’t have all the time in the world to work on his game, he really needs to show he can stand up in the big games now. I think he’s a terrific player but a work in progress at FH.

    • I’m not a BK hater, he’s a very exciting talent, however why do you think it was that Pyrgos decided to launch box kicks rather than pass to BK? Maybe due to lack of cutting edge in the backs (2nd half there was a 10 a 13 and the lesser of the 2 Argentines in the back 3), all that somewhat negative chat will quickly disappear with a win V Ulster

    • Kinghorn’s line kicking to touch is bizarre and surely must be very easy to fix. It’s very noticeable that he gets very little distance on the kicks. He doesn’t need to be that conservative when kicking from Edinburgh’s 22 and the poor kicking just squanders territorial advantage.

  2. For me Kinghorn is still improving, his last couple of games in particular. Admittedly last night didn’t look good, but then it looked like the whole team was mis-firing.

    I think Jaco looks pretty good at 15, better than he has recently at 10, where lately i think he’s been disappointing. However, Kinghorn’s kicking is still an issue. I asume he kicks well when the pressure is off (ie midweek) so maybe if we stick with him he’ll come good.

    I think HPs box kicking was mostly too long last night, hardly ever caused a competition and why oh why do they not kick immediately when under their own posts, by which idiocy we’ve conceded a try twice in two games !!

    Let’s hope we have that more settled team next week, or we’ll be blown away. If we could beat Ulster, I’d be really happy. Hear the ground is already sold out !

  3. If you can get a bonus point win when not playing well, that’s a good trick to pull off. Felt the ball was slow to be cleared from contact points and box kicks were too often not contestable. Not sure what it was like for the players but the constant swapping in and out of BK and JVdV at 10 seemed to affect the flow. Jaco has been needing game time to get back up to speed and will be an important part of the run in, whether at 10, 12 or 15. We have two reliable kickers in the squad and he is one of them. (Not sure why some people think goal kicking is a prerequisite to play 10. France seem to do ok : ) )

  4. Can’t believe Bennett nearly blew a try again with a casual touchdown. His 1st try v Japan in 2015 should maybe have been chalked off for going over the dead ball line. And he did blow one by dropping the ball over the line, under no pressure, in his Glasgow days – at the time it felt like the start of his slide down the ranks at Glasgow. I thought it would have taught him a lesson but apparently not. Maybe this one will, and regardless, it’s been great to see him back to something like his best this season.

  5. An ugly win is better than a pretty loss. Zebre were better than expected but we also helped them by playing with 14 players for the majority of the game. Schoe carried us again and Muncaster is a real talent. It was right to hook Owlsey at half time, hopefully his head doesn’t go down and he uses that as motivation to work on his positioning, hands and tackling (a stint in the 7s team might round him out). Edinburgh are at their best when the ruck speed is around 2 seconds and we’ll need that to have a chance against Ulster. That game is now massive and season defining, bring it on.

  6. After watching the game again Kinghorn was almost completely anonymous in the 2nd half. I agree with Garrys points re Kinghorn, he is exciting and can look top class in open field / space but glaring deficiencies in his game make me think my long held suspicions that he is not to be trusted are not far from fact. I like VDW, very solid and it would be interesting how he would go under a progressive Blair rather than a restrictive Cockerill

  7. Anybody who thought Zebre were good, never mind ‘excellent’ (per Mike Blair) last night is clutching at straws. They were dire and even then they should still have won that game with something to spare.

    I thought Kinghorn was a disgrace last night. We can all have off games but he hid for the entire second half when he should have been stepping up to control the game. But our use of our back line replacements last night was puzzling so maybe there were injuries being carried that had an impact.

    Pyrgos was forced into a very poor box kick deep in our 22 late in the game because he was getting no call from Kinghorn who could easily have punted the ball clear with a strong wind behind him. Any team who was ‘excellent’ would have turned that situation into a game-winning position, so thank god it was only Zebre. I’m sure Pyrgos gave Kinghorn what for in the aftermath of that phase.

    I thought Jaco had a good game and, like others, I have no idea why he is not kicking to touch instead of Kinghorn who clearly doesn’t have the necessary technique for finding consistent, impactful distance.

    I don’t know what we do with Kinghorn. He can be a great attacking weapon – always has been – but when playing 10 he seems incapable of controlling games other than when we are dominant anyway and, when he is not on his game he can be a huge liability.

    When Lang played first receiver last week, Kinghorn did a lot of his most impactful work off of him but he is surely defensively too suspect to play as a centre full time.

    So I honestly think the back three is the best place for him but Immelman, Bofelli, Graham and Moyano are superior to him in some or all of those positions and Blain and Hoyland aren’t bad either.

    The bottom line for me is that sacrificing a 10 who can take control of a game that is in the balance for the attacking flair that Kinghorn (sometimes) provides is not a good percentage play.

    While I was raging he was picked at 10 for Scotland I was quite supportive of the experiment at Edinburgh given the style we were trying to play and the other options available. We might win some games by more points than we otherwise would have but last night, following on from the failure against the Lions, shows that the risk of losing games we should be winning is too great.

    Let’s put it this way; I don’t think he would be the starting 10 at any other professional team.

    • Dude, relax, he has had 1 bad game and is still learning, Ross Thompson was also ‘shocking’ but no one mentions this because he is a young ‘official’ 10. Playing a Fly-half in Jaco at 15 i’m sure made the game plan different as well in terms of running the game.

      • I’m perfectly relaxed thanks. I had a great time at the match last night because the result was in the balance for a change.

        But if you honestly believe that Kinghorn has only had one bad game, you can’t be watching the same team as me. His good games are still the exceptions although, admittedly, not as exceptional as they were earlier in the season.

        As far as I know Ross Thompson plays for Glasgow, so I’m not sure why his performance is at all relevant. Sounds a bit like Whitabootery to me. 🙂

  8. An ugly win is better than a pretty loss. Zebre were better than expected but we also helped them by playing with 14 players for the majority of the game. Schoe carried us again and Muncaster is a real talent. It was right to hook Owlsey at half time, hopefully his head doesn’t go down and he uses that as motivation to work on his positioning, hands and tackling (a stint in the 7s team might round him out). Edinburgh are at their best when the ruck speed is around 2 seconds and we’ll need that to have a chance against Ulster. That game is now massive and season defining, bring it on.

  9. Pyrgos manages some aspects of the game well, but he kicks far too much and far too predictably. Having to select van der Walt in the backs because Kinghorn learned to place kick from Stevie Wonder didn’t help much.
    It was a good team effort to win this match, despite the cards. Both cards were deserved, with the first maybe a bit unfortunate in sliding up the body, but the red card was just brainless.
    Blair deserves a lot of credit for what he’s achieved this season and I hope he can keep it going

  10. My concerns with Edinburgh’s game management is kicking away possession by Pyrgos repeatedly, even in the opposition half. All this does is let the opposition run back at you. Also Kinghorn’s line kicking needs to be improved. He slices every time. Van der Walt used to be very good at this. Blair needs to sort these out

  11. A good crowd out last night expecting a big win so not expecting this tense tussle. To be fair to Zebre they looked a much better side than the bottom of the table winless side they are. They have some dangerous backs and seemed to work out Edinburghs back line attack with some good defence – they marked Kinghorn well. So its hard to say how much was down to a much improved Zebre v Edinburgh being off the pace. We can feel fortunate to win but as David says take the win and move on. I hope we get some props back soon or well struggle big time at the business send of the season.

    • I thought Henry Pyrgos’s game management was really poor as he repeatedly kicked away possession with poor box kicks and allowed Zebre to stay in the game. I was hoping he would have been ‘hooked’ at half-time to be replaced by Vellacott who amazingly did not appear

  12. David, is there a problem with the TOL filter/firewall/thingymabob that stops comments going in? I know I’m not alone in wondering this

    • It is ridiculous at this point John, my account Angrygala was unable to comment anymore at all, new account, different ID sometimes works.

    • i wasn’t previously aware of any comments going missing. Fairly often comments get sent to either our pending folder, a bin or a spam folder if they contain text which triggers the filter system.

      We check all these folders several time per day to approve or delete permanently, so sometimes there is a lag between posting and the comment appearing on the site, which is unavoidable unfortunately because without a filter system the site wold be overrun by unsolicited spam. But I wasn’t previously aware of comments going missing.

      Please note, it is very unusual for us to delete a genuine [non-spam] comment, only if it is deeply offensive, contains profanity or is demonstrably untrue.

      I will speak to our web manager on Monday to get his thoughts and come back to you on this.


      • Thanks sir, my comment at 636am wasn’t there when I imput the question re filter, in my experience it is quite an issue, used to comment more but got fed up with stuff simply disapearing

  13. I noticed a wee lack of focus in the lead up to the game and the early try (lovely Kingjorn kick through) probably made it seem to easy. A bad miss to touch by Kinghorn and regressing to the Cockerill kicking era simply encouraged a spirited but average Zebre. The 2 locks on the naughty step for ages (2 very poor challenges) didn’t help
    Kinghorn didn’t see much ball as Edinburgh mostly played 10 man rugby maybe missing all the front line back 3 and Owsley hooked at 1/2 time necessitated this change.
    Showed good heart in actually winning the game. Schoeman, Muncaster and Bennett played well, Watson looks tired and we still really miss Nel.Vellacott is the heartbeat of the team.
    Still a wins a win

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