Edinburgh’s European Rugby Champions Cup hopes suffered a major blow as they suffered a surprise 26-13 defeat to Zebre in Italy.
Zebre 26 - 13 Edinburgh
SCORERS: Zebre: Tries: Venditti, Cristiano, Ratuvou. Con: Orquera. Pens: Orquera, Garcia 2. Edinburgh: Try: Scott. Con: Cuthbert. Pens: Bezuidenhout 2.
At Stadio XXV Aprile, Parma
Referee: P Fitzgibbons (IRFU)
Edinburgh’s slim hopes of qualifying for next year’s Champions Cup were all but put to bed in Parma yesterday when Alan Solomons’ troops became the first-ever Scottish side to lose to Zebre.
Mathematically, sixth-place Scarlets can still be caught, but with a run-in of Munster at home sandwiched between Glasgow and Leinster away, such an outcome seems highly implausible.
Especially, one would have to add, if they perform like they did in Italy yesterday, when they were convincingly outplayed by their Italian counterparts.
Injuries didn’t help. The withdrawal of Ollie Atkins, below, in the 15th minute, especially, left their lineout rudderless, a problem which was compounded in the second half when Roddy Grant followed him down the tunnel.
The net result gave Zebre the impetus they needed to register a result which they too needed to keep alive their hopes of European qualification.
In all, the Italians outscored their visitors by three tries to one, with Giovanbattista Venditti, Filippo Cristiano and Kameli Ratuvou all crossing the whitewash.
Edinburgh had just a single try by Matt Scott, and not even a losing bonus point to take home, which was disappointing considering they trailed just 14-6 at the break.
In fairness, had the Italians not been so wasteful, the damage would have been much more severe for the travelling party.
Before his withdrawal, Atkins saved a certain try with a superb last- ditch tackle on Zebre captain Quintin Geldenhuys, one of many close scares for Edinburgh. On another occasion, Luciano Orquera seemed to be on his way for a length-of-the-field try having blocked down a half-hearted drop goal attempt by Carl Bezuidenhout, but agonisingly the ball slipped from his grasp.
As it was, Zebre only managed to convert one of the numerous chances they created, Venditti the sole beneficiary following a trademark snipe from close to the ruck.
Both he and his opposite wing, Leonardo Sarto, were causing havoc in the visiting defence, who seemed to be permanently exposed out wide.
Edinburgh’s problems, however, did not emanate there, rather they were a product of misfiring lineout and a flawed breakdown policy.
The visitors never really managed to slow down Zebre’s fast rucking game, and paid as a result.
On the odd occasion that they did contest possession, it almost always resulted in a penalty. Gonzalo Garcia and Orquera carved up nine points between them to consolidate Zebre’s advantage.
In response, Bezuidenhout kicked two penalties for Edinburgh, but worryingly, they never really looked like scoring a try.
Unsurprisingly, both half-backs were given the shepherd’s crook at half-time in an attempt to energise the Edinburgh attack, and with immediate dividends.
With Grayson Hart now pulling the strings at scrum-half, Edinburgh looked that bit more urgent in the three-quarter line, and it took them just five minutes of the restart to register a try.
Tim Visser, as he is so often, played the role of creator, his delayed midfield run taking him through a thin gap in the cover defence, and his perfectly timed pass sending Scott over close to the posts.
This was Visser’s first game back since breaking his ankle against Treviso last year, and while he obviously looked a tad rusty, the sight of him playing for 80 minutes came as a welcome fillet for the travelling party.
Meanwhile, Jack Cuthbert converted and Edinburgh, for a while anyway, had stolen a march.
However, their reprieve was short-lived, their inability to slow down Zebre’s ruck ball once again costing them dearly as flanker Cristiano capitalised on some soft defending following a multi-phase attack.
Thereafter, Edinburgh’s play continued to disappoint and frustrate in equal measure.
At one stage, they went from an attacking five-metre lineout to defending a scrum five metres from their own line, all in the matter of 90 seconds.
Penalties and knock-ons seemed to be the order of the day, their inability to keep a hold of the ball draining confidence and energy.
Cuthbert did have a chance to reduce the deficit but his penalty effort went narrowly wide from a central position.
Meanwhile, David Denton made a scything break but, bizarrely, chose to pass the ball inside rather than give it to the spare man out wide.
That was as good as it would get for Edinburgh, the knockout blow coming three minutes from time when Ratuvou skirted home under the posts after the Zebre pack had dismantled the Edinburgh scrum on their own put in.
It was a fitting end to a particularly forgetful day.
Zebre: D Odiete; L Sarto, T Iannone (G Garcia 62), G Garcia (K Ratuvou 55), G Venditti; L Orquera, B Leonard; M Aguero, D Giazzon (T D’Apice 68), D Chistolini (D Ryan 60); Q Geldenhuys (capt), G Biagi; F Cristiano (F Ferrarini 68), A Van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa.
Edinburgh: J Cuthbert; T Brown, M Scott, A Strauss, T Visser; C Bezuidenhout (H Leonard 41), S Kennedy (G Hart 41); W Blaauw, R Ford (J Hilterband 54), W Nel; B Toolis (A Toolis 54), O Atkins (C Du Preez 15); M Coman (capt), R Grant (S Beard 57), D Denton.