DAVID BARNES @ The Hive Stadium,
THERE’S been a bit of chat this week about Edinburgh developing the happy knack of winning games this season they would almost certainly have previously lost. This match turned that trend on its head, with the Scottish capital outfit coughing up three soft tries to blow a commanding 12 point lead midway through the first half, and then a five point lead with just over 10 minutes left, to lose a game they really ought to be winning if they want to be serious play-off contenders.
It looked like it was going to be a triumphant send-off for Blair Kinghorn in his last home game before joining Toulouse at the start of December when he scored two tries before the break, but it ended in ignominy for the 26-year-old after he played a lead role in the calamitous sequence of events which led to Benetton’s late match-winning try, popping the ball off the deck to nobody just yards from his own line, which allowed Marco Zanon to pounce for that decisive score.
“The result is obviously disappointing,” conceded Edinburgh ‘senior’ coach Sean Everitt afterwards. “The team are hurting right now in the changing room. We beat ourselves this evening with soft moments in the game.
“You can’t knock the effort the team put in tonight, and from a discipline point of view we were okay at half-time having given away four penalties and four turnovers, but at the start of the second half we gave away two penalties in a row which led to their second try, then obviously there was the soft moment late in the game which we couldn’t get back from when we lost our line-out five-metres out when we could have put them to bed and they ended up scoring 100 yards down the field on the return play. So, that’s really disappointing for the boys.
“Maybe we could have finished the game off a little better than we did by trying to go for a 40-metre drop-goal, but at the end of the day the players make the decisions and they were confident enough to go for it, so I am happy with that decision at the end.”
Kinghorn put his hand up afterwards to take his share of the responsibility for that late score. “Looking back on it, the offload was too risky and it was a bad decision that cost us seven points and the game. It wasn’t how I wanted it to end,” he said.
However, Everitt refused to single-out the Toulouse-bound full-back for blame. “Blair did extremely well under the high ball and had a good game tonight,” he insisted. “We can’t fault him for one mistake because then we have to fault everyone. We’ll all take this on the chin as a team and coaching staff, and move on.
“I’m disappointed and at the same time angry because the things that let us down tonight are the same things that we’ve spoken about,” he added. “We put ourselves into a position to lose this game – they didn’t dominate and win it, we lost it.”
Edinburgh threatened early with Duhan van der Merwe coming off his wing to help clear up some scrappy line-out possession and bouncing through two tackles, but he collided with the right post as he tumbled towards the line and the ball squirted loose without being grounded.
It was only a temporary reprieve for Benetton, however, because they had conceded a penalty earlier in the move which was kicked to the corner, and once the home forwards had driven the maul, possession was sent right and a nice tip-on by James Lang created the space for Ben Healy to send Kinghorn home with an excellent flat pass.
Edinburgh came close to striking again when Lang chased down his own kick ahead and pounced on the loose ball after Rhyno Smith made a meal of tidying up possession, however after discussion with the TMO, South African referee Aimee Barrett-Theron ruled that the ball was grounded in touch.
Again, Edinburgh kept their foot on the gas to score just a few minutes after that disallowed effort, with a Healy cross-kick sending the unmarked Matt Currie over on the left.
It was then Benetton’s turn to have a try chalked off by the TMO, who decided that Malakai Fekitoa hadn’t managed to get the ball down after a powerful surge for the line, and this was perhaps the most contentious of the three early disallowed scores. Like Edinburgh had done after their near misses, the visitors kept the pressure on and it required a last gasp interception from Ewan Ashman – on after only five minutes for the injured Dave Cherry – to derail a sweeping attack on the left spearheaded by Michele Lamaro.
It was beginning of get silly when Currie then had what would have been his second try chalked off following yet another intervention from the TMO … who highlighted a marginally forward pass from Kinghorn to Wes Goosen a full three phases and six passes before the (disallowed) score.
It would have been an absolute travesty if Benetton’s opening try on 31 minutes had been referred to the eagle-eyed TMO (Marius van der Westhuizen from South Africa), because Igncacio Mendy did brilliantly to run it all the way home from 90-yards after he and Andy Uren pick-pocketed Goosen in contact right under the shadow of their own posts.
Jacob Umaga slotted the conversion and then added a penalty awarded against Ashman for being slow to get out of the way after a tackle which prevented a quick recycle.
That made it 12-10 to the hosts with five minutes to go until the break, before Edinburgh finished the half with a flourish when Healy switched back down the short side, van der Merwe burst the line and Goosen provided the link to send Kinghorn streaking home for his second.
Benetton took advantage of Edinburgh’s slow start to the second period to pull it back to a two point game within three minutes of the restart, with two penalties conceded by the hosts providing the field position for Zanon to crash through three tackles and over the line, and Umaga once again converted.
Benetton dominated possession and territory for the next 10 minutes without really looking like they were going to score, while Edinburgh wasted little time in collecting three points when they finally got out of their half, with Healy kicking a penalty after replacement prop Mirco Spagnolo was sin-binned just 15 seconds after coming off the bench for collapsing a maul.
But the home side failed to kick on from there and despite being a man down, Benetton had a chance to close the gap back to two points when Ashman was again penalised to lying on the wrong side, but this time Umaga pulled his long-range effort to the left of the posts.
Then, with five minutes to go, disaster struck when Edinburgh sent a kickable penalty to the corner but lost the line-out five yards from Benetton’s line and ended up retreating all the way back to their own line through a calamitous series of increasingly careless blunders, which reached a farcical crescendo when Kinghorn popped a loose ball off the deck to nobody and Zanon pounced to score the try which put the Italians ahead for the first time in the match.
After Benetton were again reduced to 14 men for the final three minutes through the red-carding of second-row Eli Snyman for head-on-head contact with van der Merwe, Edinburgh roused themselves for a late push for glory, working their way into the strike zone then opting to drop Healy into the pocket, but his drop-goal effort from 40-yards out sailed harmlessly to the right of the posts.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; W Goosen, M Currie, J Lang, D van der Merwe; B Healy, A Price ( B Vellacott 54); P Schoeman (B Venter 62), D Cherry (E Ashman 7), W Nel (A Williams 68), G Young (M Sykes 64), G Gilchrist, J Ritchie, C Boyle, L Crosbie (T Dodd 15-25, 73).
Benetton: R Smith (S Hidalgo-Clyne 77); P Odogwu, M Fekitoa, M Zanon (G Da Re 73), I Mendy; J Umaga, A Uren; T Gallo (M Spagnolo 52), G Nicotera (B Bernasconi 41), G Zilocchi (T Pasquali 66), E Iachizzi (R Favretto, 62), E Snyman, A Izekor, M Lamaro (H Time-Stowers 77), L Cannone (T Halafihi 41)
Referee: Aimee Barrett-Theron (SARU)
Edinburgh: Tries: Kinghorn 2, Currie; Con: Healy 2; Pen: Healy.
Benetton: Tries: Mendy, Zanon 2; Con: Umaga 3; Pen: Umaga.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 12-5; 12-7; 12-10; 17-10; 19-10 (h-t) 19-15; 19-17; 22-17; 22-22; 22-24.
Yellow cards –
Benetton: Spagnolo (53 mins)
Red cards –
Benetton: Snyman (77 mins)