EDINBURGH’S end-of-season resurgence continued in Parma last night where they scraped home 9-7 against bottom-of-the-table Zebre.
The Italian strugglers scored the only try of the game through Andries Van Schalkwyk but three penalties by Greig Laidlaw ensured it was the visitors who came away with the spoils.
And whilst not the most convincing performance in the annals of Scottish rugby, interim coaches Stevie Scott and Duncan Hodge were not about to complain after what was their second successive victory since taking charge earlier this month.
“We probably should have won that game four or five times over,” said Scott when it was all done and dusted. “But there were a lot of individual errors and poor decisions which kept Zebre in the game.
“There was a lot of pressure on us towards the end, but we dug deep, the boys did what was asked of them, and we managed to grind out what was a very good result in Italy.”
Indeed, considering the atrocious playing conditions, it was an excellent result for Edinburgh. The performance, however, was really something of a curate’s egg, and especially during the first half. On a pitch the like of which probably hasn’t been seen since the playing days of Scott and Hodge, the visitors played all the rugby, yet somehow found themselves trailing by a point at the interval, two penalties by Laidlaw the sum total of their best efforts.
Zebre, on the other hand, had just a single period of pressure in the Edinburgh 22, but managed to come away from it with seven points, Van Schalkwyk strolling through the traffic after less than a handful of phases.
The lowly Italians have been a brittle outfit for most of the season, and tend to give up the ghost as soon as soon as the going gets tough, but they were kept in this one by virtue of Edinburgh’s wastefulness, rather than any enterprise of their own. Such carelessness was in evidence from as early as the first minute when Matt Scott found himself clear of the cover defence, but failed to find his support runners outside him.
Edinburgh’s forward play was for the most part impressive, it must be said, and served to open up gaps all over the field for their strike runners, but they all too often lacked the nous to take advantage.
Piers Francis was culpable of taking the wrong options at times, spreading the ball wide rather than backing himself to go through the yawning spaces ahead of him.
Ben Atiga, meanwhile, made a searing break from his own 22, but his offload failed to stick.
Just as well that Laidlaw had his kicking boots on. He split the posts on the stroke of half time to reduce a 7-3 deficit to just a single point, and within minutes of the second half he had Edinburgh in the lead with his third successful strike from three attempts.
Edinburgh seemed to grow in confidence thereafter, and began to frustrate Zebre by keeping them penned back inside their own half, forcing mistake after mistake from their back three.
In keeping with their first half wantonness, however, they laboured to turn pressure into points. The front row coughed up a penalty when they seemed poised to barge over the line from a five-metre scrum, whilst Greig Tonks was somehow held up when his momentum really should have seen him score.
Even Laidlaw was by now suffering the blips. He skewed a kickable penalty before then slipping in the mud with the line at his mercy.
Edinburgh, by the midway point of the second half, were still in the lead, and still dominant in terms of both possession and territory, but there was always the fear that Zebre would run home a breakaway try. Gradually, that fear seeped into the Edinburgh mindset, and they were lucky to escape when Giovanbattista Venditti was pulled back for offside after Luciano Orquera’s perfectly-judged chip kick put him in the clear. They were even luckier when Orquera’s drop goal attempt struck the post two minutes from time.
By the end of it, Edinburgh were well and truly hanging on. But hang on they did to record a highly creditable win.
Scorers: Zebre: Try: Van Schalkwyk. Conversion: Orquera. Edinburgh: Pens: Laidlaw 3.
Zebre: P Buso (R Trevisan 57); L Sarto. G Venditti, G Garcia, S Sinoti; L Orquera, T Tebaldi (A Chillon 69); A De Marchi (S Perugini 58), D Giazzon ( A Mancini 52), D Ryan (L Leibson 60); Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (capt); J Sole, F Ferrarini, A Van Schalkwyk (M Van Vuren 57). Subs not used: E Caffini, S Pace.
Edinburgh: G Tonks; L Jones, M Scott, B Atiga, T Visser; P Francis, G Laidlaw (capt); A Jacobsen (J Yapp 64), R Ford (S Lawrie 76), W Nel (G Cross 52); P Parker, S Cox; S McInally, R Rennie (H Watson 41), N Talei. Subs not used: R McAlpine, S Kennedy, H Leonard, T Brown.
Referee: S Gallagher (IRFU)