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.
“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.
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)
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)