Edinburgh v Zebre: late fightback sees capital club return to winning ways

Edinburgh v Zebre
Edinburgh's players celebrate their late win as Zebre are left despondent. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk




At the DAM Health Stadium

EDINBURGH passed a stern test of character with flying colours as a late fightback saw them claim a bonus-point win over Zebre. Paddy Harrison came off the bench to grab the winner with just one minute 15 seconds left on the clock, after his team had fallen from 10-0 up at the break to 17-10 behind inside the final quarter.

You could argue that Edinburgh should have had the points in the bag long before the 79th minute, but in the circumstances it was understandable that Mike Blair should hail this result as their best win of the season so far. They had lost their last four games in the URC so morale was not at its highest, they were without a whole host of their most experienced players either through injury or because of the SRU rest protocol, and the wet and windy conditions militated against creative play.

In other words, while some of their previous victories have been more pleasing on the eye, this one was arguably more heartening because of the backbone shown.

“I’m proud,” Blair said. “I genuinely believe that’s our best win of the season so far. The position we put ourselves in, with a really stiff breeze when all the momentum was with Zebre – to come back into the game as we did after the results we’ve had in the past few weeks, is massive for the club.

“I actually felt confident that we would get back into the game. I genuinely have so much belief in this group of players. We just have to keep learning. 

“We repeated some of the mistakes of the past few weeks, but I asked the players to show character and I believe they showed it in the way they came back to get the bonus-point win. It’s something we can really build on.”

Zebre began gamely enough, but could do little with their possession against an Edinburgh defence in which Sam Skinner was particularly impressive. The lock charged down a kick then bundled an attacker into touch in the opening minutes, and also played his part in offence too as the home side steadily got the upper hand.

When one attack launched by Skinner was stopped illegally, Blair Kinghorn kicked to touch inside the visitors’ 22, giving Edinburgh their first real attacking platform with quarter of an hour played. The lineout maul was halted all too easily on that occasion, but two minutes later a similar, more successful move on the other side of the field produced the opening score of the game.

Skinner collected clean ball from the lineout on this occasion, and the drive went deep into the Italian 22 before reaching an impasse. But then Connor Boyle popped up from deep within the melee to pass to Charlie Shiel, and the scrum-half had just enough space in which to dive over the line in the right corner. 

Kinghorn missed the conversion attempt, but two minutes later, Edinburgh had their second try. Some steady pressure in midfield put Zebre on the back foot, and eventually No 8 Nick Haining broke down the right before providing the scoring pass for Jack Blain. Kinghorn again failed to add the two points as conditions worsened, with rain returning to add to the difficulties produced by a strong wind.

Zebre lost winger Simone Gesi to the sinbin inside the final ten minutes of the first half after the winger was deemed guilty of a deliberate knock-on when tackling Mark Bennett. The 14 men were able to launch a threatening attack from a lineout just before the break, but in the end conceded a penalty as they tried to force an issue.

Gesi returned just after the break, and opened his team’s account a couple of minutes later. Too many defenders had been dragged into central defence as the Zebre attack tried to force their way over the line, and when the ball came back out, the winger had acres of space in which to dot down. Tiff Eden’s attempt to add the two points swerved wide of the near post.

With half an hour to play, Gesi struck again. Edinburgh failed to defend the narrow side at a lineout, scrum-half Allesandro Fusco broke, and the winger was up in support to collect the pass and slide over. Eden’s second miss left the score tied at 10-10.

Zebre could then have gone ahead with a penalty in front of the posts and around 30 metres out. But they went for touch instead, then repeated the process when awarded another penalty, only to be turned over.

The match had developed into a real test of character for Edinburgh, many of whose senior internationals had either been rested or were on the injury list. Bill Mata, Luan de Bruin and Ben Vellacott all came off the bench in a bid to steady the ship, and Mata in particular quickly injected some urgency into proceedings with some dynamic drives.

Inside the last quarter, Edinburgh came close to regaining the lead from a lineout maul, but a scrum was awarded against them after their drive faltered. Then, with less than 15 minutes to go, Zebre took the lead thanks to some slack defence. Picking up from the base of a scrum, stand-off Eden slipped through a gap then evaded Harry Paterson to score between the posts before adding the two points.

Edinburgh needed to hit back quickly, and they did, within a minute. A penalty to touch was driven, and Boyle finished off a simple score. Kinghorn’s conversion made it 17-17.

In the dying minutes the home team were awarded two kickable penalties but went for touch both times only to fail to finish off. When they got a scrum in front of the posts, however, they did get over the line, with substitute Harrison finishing off. Kinghorn’s drop-kicked conversion was the last kick of the match.

Blair was relieved as well as proud at the way his players had fought back. But, with a tough Champions Cup game against Castres coming up on Sunday, he knows his team need to apply themselves more consistently over the course of games.

“When we needed it we stepped up and went harder – but we need that drive for the whole 80 minutes,” he added. “If we had that drive for the whole 80 minutes then we would have put that team away earlier.”

Teams – 

Edinburgh: H Paterson; J Blain, M Bennett, C Hutchison (J Lang 64), B Kinghorn; C Savala, C Shiel (B Vellacott 56); B Venter (N Auterac 68), D Cherry (P Harrison 62), A Williams (L de Bruin 50), S Skinner, J Hodgson (M Sykes 64), L Crosbie (captain), C Boyle, N Haining (V Mata 50). 

Zebre: J Trulla; P Bruno (G Prisciantelli 78), T Boni, E Lucchin (captain, F Smith 68)), S Gesi; T Eden, A Fusco (R Jelic 78); P Buonfiglio (A Sanavia 65), L Bigi (J du Toit 65), M Nocera (M Hasa 65), D Visser (L Krumov 61), J Furno, G Ferrari (D Ruggeri 61), M Pelser, M Kvesic. 

Scorers –

Edinburgh: Tries: Shiel, Blain, Boyle, Harrison. Cons: Kinghorn 2.
Zebre: Tries: Gesi 2, Eden. Con: Eden.

Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 5-0, 10-0 half-time, 10-5, 10-10, 10-15, 10-17, 15-17, 17-17, 22-17, 24-17.

Yellow card: Zebre: Gesi 32.

Referee: A Barrett-Theron (South Africa).

Attendance: 5,203.

About Stuart Bathgate 1427 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.


  1. Castres are really struggling in the T14, hovering just above relegation zone
    If , as I suspect, they put out a weakened team it may give Edinburgh the chance for a famous away win and a chance to reboot their season.
    Unfortunately their reserve team will still be very hard up front so still a big task for an Embro win.

  2. It was great to get the victory at the end to finally give the fans something to shout about but I don’t think we should kid ourselves that we were scrambling to beat the bottom team in the league.

    The backs are crabbing in attack, we seem to spend more time running sideways than forwards. Someone needs to put their hand up and take the ball on. It’s not all the backs fault as the forwards are struggling to get over the gain line. Skinner was the stand out from the starting pack and Mata and Harrison brought some real desire when they came on.

    The worrying signs remain, we get opened up too easily, we’re lacking structure and who knows what happens at half time but we always come out asleep. On the other hand a couple of wins on the bounce and we may get some confidence back.

  3. A game that raises more questions than answers. Good to secure the win with the mini comeback, but how did the lads allow themselves to get in that position in the first place? In the last 10 minutes of the first half the Italians were 10-0 down and minus a man, yet Edinburgh – with the wind at their backs – failed to register the score that would surely have closed out the game. Instead rock-bottom Zebre – who are admittedly improving – came storming back and even found themselves ahead, requiring the home team to focus with an intensity that it seems unable to display for 80 minutes. Have Edinburgh turned a corner with this win? Absolutely not, but it is at least five much-needed points that – only just – avert a deepening crisis. Plus points: Skinner was reassuringly as solid as a rock; Cherry seems to be about the most reliable line-out thrower in Scotland; the less accurate Harrison is developing nicely as an attacking player; Paterson was reliable under the high ball; and Hutchinson always seems able to breenge his way over the gain line. Would love to see more of him and Muncaster to give this team a more aggressive edge. But some of the others are in danger of ruling themselves out of contention with the Six Nations less than a month away, even given Townsend’s woeful tendency to ignore form. Questions still being asked about where Kinghorn fits best. Surely not in the back three given the competition, while I don’t believe for a moment that Healy will not make the ten jersey his own next season. Which leaves the centre berths, perhaps. I don’t know – and neither it seems does anyone else. Bizarre post-match performance by Blair.

    • Kinghorn is no centre and as you say hopefully when Healy arrives he will make the position his so I suspect Blair will revert back to being in the back 3 but with a lot of competition. PS – watched the Munster v Lions game and saw a very assured performance from Heally with all the basics of a good stand-off – accurate kicks to touch and off the tee and some good positional kicks to secure territory – just what we need – game management.

      • Sorry Ross but I think that’s naive, you’re not the only one, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve fallen for the jam tomorrow promises. Remember Simon Hickey? Signed with a huge fanfare, the most money ever for a project player? The number 10 that would turn us into world beaters…. what happened to him I wonder 🤔
        The truth is a young Dan Carter couldn’t improve Edinburgh unless the culture,attitude and basics improve dramatically. The wide wide game plan the team are being coached to adhere to isn’t working and no fly-half can manage a game without a decent game plan the opposition can’t read from a mile off.
        I don’t want to wait until next season, we need a decent tight head now and just perhaps this season might be salvaged.

      • Response to Shug – I don’t want to over hype Healy and agree that he’s not going to change Edinburgh on his own, just thought he looked good although not a world beater. Only time will tell. Edinburgh have enough good players to be doing much better than they are so let’s hope they can get their act together soon.

  4. I noticed a definite strengthening of the wind at half time and my heart sank. Edinburgh were not convincing with the conditions 1st half and were downright poor during a 3rd quarter best forgotten. The introduction of Mata and Vellacot had a galvanising effect, with another impact sub, Harrison showing strength and more importantly, bloody minded determination to get over for the winning score.
    All those mentioned above, as well as Skinner, Boyle, Haining, Cherry and Bennett get pass marks from me. As for the rest, quiet doesn’t begin to describe it. The inexperienced guys have some excuse but I was particularly disappointed in Crosbie, who, after some sterling displays earlier this season, may have played himself out of 6nations reckoning on his recent performances.

  5. I suspect what MB says on camera and to press is different to what he really thinks . I agree same old issues still there. The intensity and work rate comes in spurts from far to many players in pack . We need to weed out those players who just seem to stroll around doing a job and only step up when they think it’s needed . The consistent intensity message is just not getting across to certain players . When you see what Harrison did in last play you see what a difference real desire makes . Mind you intensity is not just players state of mind it comes from coaching practices and standards.

    • I love watching Italian sides, even when they are humiliating us. They play with such commitment and no little skill. Agree with Malcolm, Edinburgh did not seem interested at times.

  6. I expect that many will disagree with me, but I assume that MB has the complete set of GT recordings of spin positive responses to poor winning and losing performances. He sounds like a clone of GT. Yes, the conditions weren’t great and players were missing, but the same mistakes crop up again and again. Are the players just not up to it or is the coaching at fault. Well done Zebre with its resources, but heaven help Edinburgh in the tough run in to the end of the season.

    • ‘When we needed it we stepped it up”

      Right there. That tells you everything you need to know. That is a coaches license for players to stroll through the game any time they think they don’t have to give everything.

      My son’s u16 team wouldn’t get away with that attitude – and this is supposed to be a professional team who are supposed to be giving their all for 80+ minutes every match.

      God help us if this is the kind of coaching we are fostering.

      Never mind, I suppose we ‘trained really well’ through the week and that the ‘boys looked great’ and ‘we’ll be the best version of ourselves’ in future matches.

  7. Well that was a nervy experience at the DAM this afternoon. At the end of the day its a 5 pointer and you’d always take that before the game. When Zebre went ahead i feared we were done for and so credit to the guys for coming back at the end – it made for an exciting finish. Great to see the youngster among the tries with Shiel, Blane and Harrison scoring. A bit scrappy at times but glad of the win. Zebre often look better than the bottom side and they had some hard running backs that caused us some problems. One main criticism for me was our backs running so laterally and just putting the wingers into no space whatsoever – seemed to so often go with pass in behind the runners and then drift across the park with no penetration. Big improvement needed here against the better teams.

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