@ BT Murrayfield
EDINBURGH could have had this match won by half-time, appeared to have it in the bag after an hour, but in the end were taken the distance by opponents who outscored them by five tries to four. Richard Cockerill’s team twice held a 16-point lead, once in either half, but on each occasion their defence let them down.
Benetton deserve a lot of credit for the quality of their attack, and in hat-trick-scoring Luca Sperandio they had a devastating finisher. Nonetheless, while being measured in his assessment of a result that takes his team off the bottom of PRO14 Conference B, Cockerill made it plain that his team’s defensive performance had been unacceptable.
I’m a bit disappointed,” the Edinburgh coach said. “We did some really good things and got ourselves a good lead, and then it was the first half since we’ve been together as a coaching group that we decided not to defend.
“That was probably the most disappointing part, because we did some good things against a good side. Every time they had the ball they looked like they were going to score.
“It’s progress from last year. We took a point from this game last year and we’ve taken five tonight. We were better than the result showed. We’re a better team than that. But if you give them opportunity and you’re not accurate and you’re not physical, they will cause you problems.
“When we didn’t have the ball we didn’t cope with them well enough. We looked short of energy when we didn’t have the ball, although we had plenty of energy when we had the ball, so maybe that’s a mental thing.
“So, frustrating. It’s five points, and you’ll always take five points. They take two and they could easily have taken five. We’ve had some bad luck so far this year, so we’ll take the good luck when it comes.”
Benetton off the mark
Tommy Allan put Benetton ahead with a first-minute penalty, but after that the first quarter belonged to Edinburgh. Simon Hickey took them level with a penalty after five, and then, after 10 minutes or more of heavy pressure, they eventually took the lead when Matt Scott slipped through the defensive line from close range. Hickey converted, as he did again three minutes later, when an attacking scrum provided the platform for Duhan van der Merwe to come off his wing, collect a short pass from the stand-off, and sprint in for the second try.
Benetton got back into the game all too easily with quarter of an hour to play in the first half, with Sperandio standing up Van der Merwe then jinking inside to score his team’s first try. It was a score that appeared to refocus Edinburgh’s minds, and they soon stretched their lead again, this time through Blair Kinghorn.
A poor clearance by the Italians was carried back by Magnus Bradbury then recycled. Chris Dean did most of the hard work with an excellent break on the right, and then he slipped a pass to Kinghorn, who ran in from 20 metres.
Hickey converted, and with five minutes to go before the break, Edinburgh should have shut play down. Instead, they seemed to suffer another lapse of intensity, one from which Benetton benefited with a converted try in the last play of the half. Pinned back deep inside their own half, the home team conceded a run of penalties, and eventually Marco Fuser finished the move off from close range.
Benetton are far from the pushovers they once were, but Edinburgh should nonetheless have taken more than a nine-point lead into the second half. At least they had finished off well, however, and when the game restarted they were soon back on top and chasing the bonus-point try. They had to be patient as play got bogged down in a series of scrums, but eventually a switch of play allowed Kinghorn to float a long pass out to Dougie Fife, who dived over in the right corner. Hickey’s conversion from right on the touchline was a thing of beauty.
Benetton again hit back quickly, and all too easily, with Sperandio getting his second try thanks to a simple overlap on the right. Edinburgh should have put the game to bed long before that point, but instead they got a real wake-up call after an hour when the right-winger, wearing 11, completed his hat-trick.
Van der Merwe appeared to have stopped Sperandio five metres out as the Italians attacked out wide, but the winger was able to scramble to his feet and dive over. As Fraser McKenzie received treatment for an injury, eventually being carried off, the grounding was referred to the TMO, who awarded the score. Failure to convert meant Edinburgh’s lead was six points, but that was still far too close for comfort.
Hickey missed for the first time in the match with a 65th-minute penalty, and that set up a closing quarter-hour that was made all the more nerve-wracking when Grant Gilchrist was yellow-carded for a team offence. Benetton kicked that penalty to touch, then another, and from the second lineout drive openside Marco Barbini drove over.
The left-footed Ian McKinley, on for Allan, had the tough task of attempting the conversion from six or seven metres in from the right touchline. He hooked it wide, and Edinburgh breathed again.
A man down and a point up, Cockerill’s team somehow succeeded in holding on for the last few minutes. But if that was testament to their strength of character when it mattered most, big questions remain over their ability to keep control of a game. If they are as profligate next week against the Cheetahs, they may be more severely punished.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Fife, C Dean, M Scott, D van der Merwe; S Hickey, H Pyrgos; A Dell, S McInally, W Nel, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, H Watson, V Mata. Subs: D Cherry, R Sutherland, M McCallum, F McKenzie, J Ritchie, N Fowles, D Graham, J Socino.
Benetton: J Hayward; R Tavuyara, T Iannone, L Morisi, L Sperandio; T Allan, D Duvenage; C Traore, L Bigi, M Riccioni, M Fuser, D Budd, S Negri, M Barbini, R Barbieri. Subs: E Makelara, D Appiah, S Ferrari, F Ruzza, M Lazzaroni, E Gori, I McKinley, I Brex.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Scott, Van der Merwe, Kinghorn, Fife. Cons: Hickey 4. Pen: Hickey.
Benetton: Tries: Sperandio 3, Fuser, Barbini. Con: Allan. Pen: Allan.
Scoring sequence: 0-3, 3-3, 8-3, 10-3, 15-3, 17-3, 17-8, 22-8, 24-8, 24-13, 24-15 half-time, 29-15, 31-15, 31-20, 31-25, 31-30.
Yellow card: Edinburgh: Gilchrist 70.
Referee: N Owens (Wales).