WHEN coaches say they want their squad to display its strength in depth, this is the sort of performance they hope for. Edinburgh were without ten Scotland internationals for this match in Parma, not to mention another five players who were out injured, but they disposed of Zebre with some ease to claim their first away win of the season.
Mike Blair’s team were simply very sharp in the first half – far too sharp for the Italians, who were already 19-0 down by the time their openside flanker MJ Pelser was sent off for a shoulder-to-head contact off the ball on Nick Haining. The visitors’ attack was somewhat blunter in the second half, partly because they had got the bonus point in the bag before the break, and partly because Zebre, like a condemned man demanding a second cigarette before facing the firing squad, dragged out proceedings as much as possible.
Blair was somewhat dissatisfied by those time-wasting tactics, but pretty pleased with the way in which his players had gone about their business straight from kick-off. “I thought that when we were on it today we were really good,” the head coach said. “This was a Zebre team who have scored a lot of tries at home and who have been an improving team over the last six months. To come away with the number of guys we didn’t have available was really impressive.
“After half-time the game was so stop-start. I don’t know how you stop that. It seemed that the Zebre front row went down at any opportunity – I don’t know if they were struggling or if it was a tactic. On top of the four water breaks you have in a game, it slows everything down and probably reduces it as a spectacle.”
The second half was indeed poor fare, but the free-flowing first 40 more than compensated. Edinburgh took the lead with seven minutes on the clock: Henry Immelman made a half-break following a lineout, and with the home defence on their back feet, Adam McBurney picked up at the breakdown and dashed through to dot down by the posts.
Minutes later McBurney came close to scoring a second from a driven maul after a penalty had been sent to touch, but he was held up by Taine Fox-Matamua and Zebre were awarded the drop-out. That second try was only delayed, though, as at the next lineout Jamie Hodgson finished off from the maul. Boffelli, who had converted the first try, was off target with his kick this time, but a 12-0 lead after quarter of an hour was a more than satisfactory beginning by the visitors.
It got better still midway through the half when Wes Goosen celebrated his debut with his team’s third touchdown. A quickly-taken free kick by Charlie Shiel did the initial damage, captain Luke Crosbie carried on, and then Matt Currie supplied a low, flat pass to the winger, who ran in from the edge of the 22. Boffelli made it 19-0 to the visitors.
Shortly after Pelser had been shown the red card, the game was held up for a while to deal with a couple of injuries, including an HIA which saw Crosbie replaced by Ben Muncaster. An Edinburgh penalty to touch got proceedings under way again, and from the maul McBurney steered his way over for the bonus-point try. Boffelli converted.
A penalty against Haining gave Zebre their first real chance of the match from a lineout maul, and they came close to taking it, too, before being held up on the line. They remained on the front foot for the rest of the half, however, and when Edinburgh continued to offend close to their own line, Boffelli was sent to the sinbin after going offside at the breakdown.
Pierre Bruno thought he had turned pressure into points with a score in the last play of the half – as did referee Craig Evans at first – but a TMO replay showed the winger had lost control of the ball before grounding.
Zebre could not capitalise on being restored to parity of numbers for the first part of the second half either. Edinburgh kept up the pressure for a time, and Immelman got their fifth try from a looping pass by Currie.
Zebre finally came into the game after that, scoring through Alessandro Fusco from a tap penalty and then Luca Rizzoli from close range. Currie added a sixth try for the Scots, converted by substitute Charlie Savala, before Jacopo Trulla had the last word for the home side with their third try. Geronimo Prisciantelli converted two of his team’s three tries to lend some respectability to the final score, but it was a solid victory for Edinburgh all the same.
“It was great that Wes got his first game for the club,” Blair said of summer signing Goosen. “He has been pretty frustrated with the start of his season with his niggling injuries, but I thought he did some really positive stuff. Nick Auterac played his first game as well and I’m delighted those guys have joined the club.”
Loosehead prop Auterac is another who has had to wait patiently for his chance. He and a few others will have another opportunity to prove their worth a week today, when Edinburgh again have the depth of their squad tested by an away game, this time in Cardiff.
Zebre: Tries: Fusco, Rizzoli, Trulla. Cons: Prisciantelli 2.
Edinburgh: Tries: McBurney 2, Hodgson, Goosen, Immelman, Currie. Cons: Boffelli 3, Savala.
Scoring sequence (Zebre first): 0-5, 0-7, 0-12, 0-17, 0-19, 0-24, 0-26 half-time, 0-31, 5-31, 10-31, 12-31, 12-36, 12-38, 17-38, 19-38.
Yellow card: Edinburgh: Boffelli 40.
Red card: Zebre: Pelser 22.
Zebre: L Pani (R Kriel 49); P Bruno, T Boni (C Cook 64), D Mazza, J Trulla; T Eden (G Prisciantelli 59), A Fusco (L Pani 80); J Pitinari (L Rizzoli 53), M Manfredi (G Ribaldi 58), I Neculai (M Hasa 55), D Sisi (captain, A Zambonin 64), L Krumov, L Andreani, M Pelser, T Fox-Matamua (G Venditti 62).
Edinburgh: H Immelman; W Goosen, M Currie, C Dean, E Boffelli (D Hoyland 53); J van der Walt (C Savala 57), C Shiel; B Venter (N Auterac 52), A McBurney (P Harrison 62), L de Bruin (A Williams 52), J Hodgson, S Skinner, N Haining (P Phillips 67), L Crosbie (captain, B Muncaster 25-34, 54), V Mata.
Referee: Craig Evans (Wales).