DESPITE being briefly down to 13 men at one point in the second half, Edinburgh held on to claim a valuable win in Parma. WP Nel was still in the sinbin when George Taylor was sent off for a dangerous tackle just five minutes after coming off the bench, and at that point Zebre were just six points behind and pressing hard to take the lead in the PRO14 match.
But the visitors’ defence proved equal to the task of keeping the Italians at bay, and in the end Richard Cockerill’s side stretched their lead thanks to a penalty from Jaco van der Walt and a late try by Jamie Farndale. The stand-off converted that score to end up with a personal tally of 16, while Mark Bennett had earlier scored his team’s first try.
Farndale had been a late addition to the starting line-up, coming in at 14 after Jack Blain moved from the right wing to cover for Blair Kinghorn, who had been unable to travel to Italy because of a late processing of a Covid test. Head coach Richard Cockerill also had to stay at home when his and Kinghorn’s negative Covid tests did not arrive on time, and there were more problems when the team’s flight was diverted because of fog.
“It wasn’t ideal preparation coming into the game, but the boys just got their heads down and stuck to their task,” assistant coach Calum MacRae said after taking over media duties from Cockerill. “I’m really proud of the effort and resilience they showed.
“We took all the air out of the game in the last 20 minutes when we needed to, particularly when we’d lost WP to the bin and George got the red. This is becoming a more and more difficult place to come to to get a result as their form shows, so we’re absolutely ecstatic to come away with the four points against a really competitive team.”
Edinburgh began confidently in spite of the pre-match disruption, and Van der Walt opened the scoring with a fifth-minute penalty after Henry Pyrgos had been obstructed at the breakdown. Zebre were penalised again after collapsing the first scrum, but the stand-off failed to find touch with a long effort from within his own half and the chance of an attacking platform was gone.
The home side steadily secured a foothold in the contest and should have drawn level midway through the half only to see Carlo Canna miss what was a simple penalty. Two minutes later, however, the No 10 was on target with another award to make it 3-3.
Despite drawing level, Zebre were still under heavy pressure in the scrum, which perhaps explains why they protested so loudly in search of a sinbinning after Pierre Schoeman had barged into Renato Giammarioli off the ball. But the loosehead was rightly only penalised, not carded, and a couple of minutes later helped turn defence into attack in a move which restored his team’s lead.
After a rip had turned over possession on the edge of their 22, Edinburgh moved the ball infield before Bennett kicked from deep. Canna could not collect, Farndale did, and as the winger was tackled he popped up a pass up to Bennett. The centre touched down behind the posts, leaving Van der Walt an easy conversion to make it 10-3 at the break.
After beginning the first half so brightly, Edinburgh were distinctly sluggish at the start of the second and conceded a try within three minutes. A cute Canna chip was mopped up by Bill Mata at the expense of a scrum, this time the Zebre held steady, and a few short-yardage phases culminated in lock Mick Kearney crossing and Canna adding the conversion.
A Van der Walt penalty soon put Edinburgh ahead again, and after 55 minutes the No 10 stretched the lead to 10-16. Zebre were far from finished, though, and after they had sent a penalty they thought they had scored from the maul, only for the referee to rule the ball had been held up – by the ever-present Schoeman, it appeared.
With the attack continuing, however, Edinburgh were penalised again for offside, and this time the official did show the yellow card, with WP Nel going to the bin. Zebre opted for the scrum in front of the posts, so Edinburgh brought on Simon Berghan as a substitute for Farndale, while Magnus Bradbury also came off the bench in place of Jamie Hodgson.
The first two scrums were reset, the third ended – bafflingly – in a penalty to Zebre, and when the ball came back from the fourth, a crunching tackle by Bennett dislodged possession from Rizzi. Eroni Sau put in an equally fine tackle minutes later as Zebre continued to press, but then Edinburgh suffered a further setback when, with Nel still in the bin, Taylor was sent off for a dangerous tackle on his fellow-substitute Antonio Rizzi.
It seemed to be a marginal decision, but after reviewing the incident the referee ruled that Taylor had gone in with his shoulder on the neck of his opponent. Nel came back on before Zebre had a chance to exploit their two-man advantage, and at last Edinburgh got back on the offensive.
With eight minutes to go, Nick Haining won a breakdown penalty, and from 30 metres out Van der Walt was on target again to take his team’s lead beyond a full score. Zebre tried to counter immediately, but a knock-on ended their attack and took some of the steam out of them.
Two minutes from time Van der Walt again went for the posts, from longer range this time. He was wide of the target, but the kick had helped run the clock down, leaving Zebre with only the chance of a score to give them a losing bonus.
They set off somewhat despairingly in search of that score, Farndale picked off a slack pass to run in a try from around halfway, and Van der Walt added two more points. After appearing to be off the pace for much of the season, Edinburgh are now just seven points behind second-placed Cardiff in Conference B, and with two games in hand.
Scorers: Zebre: Try: Kearney. Con: Canna. Pen: Canna.
Edinburgh: Tries: Bennett, Farndale. Cons: Van der Walt 2. Pens: Van der Walt 4.
Scoring sequence (Zebre first): 0-3, 3-3, 3-8, 3-10 half-time, 8-10, 10-10, 10-13, 10-16, 10-19, 10-24, 10-26.
Zebre: M Biondelli; G D’Onofrio, F Mori, T Boni, M Bellini (J Elliott 41); C Canna (A Rizzi 56), G Palazzani (J Renton 49); D Fischetti (D Rimpelli 67), L Bigi (M Manfredi 59), G Zilocchi (E Bello 63), D Sisi (captain), M Kearney (L Krumov 55), M Mbandà, J Meyer, R Giammarioli (P Leavasa 34).
Edinburgh: J Blain; J Farndale (S Berghan 61), M Bennett (G Taylor 64), C Dean, E Sau; J van der Walt, H Pyrgos (C Shiel 64); P Schoeman, D Cherry (M Willemse 65), W Nel, J Hodgson (M Bradbury 61), G Gilchrist, L Crosbie (N Haining 68), H Watson, V Mata. Unused substitutes: S Grahamslaw, N Chamberlain.
Yellow card: Edinburgh: Nel 61.
Red card: Edinburgh: Taylor 69.
Referee: G Gnecchi (Italy).