Edinburgh rode their luck to scrape past the dogged Italians and build on last week’s hard-earned victory over title challengers Ulster.
Scorers: Zebre Tries: Van Schalkwyk. Cons: Orquera. Edinburgh Pens: Laidlaw 3.
Two in a row might not be much of a sustained run after 11 straight losses, but at least it further steadies the ship and allows interim coaches Stevie Scott and Duncan Hodge to breathe a little more easily as they prepare the ground for next season’s campaign.
Zebre, whose track record is now played 19 lost 19 in their debut season in the league, fought manfully, scored the only try of the game, were ahead at half-time and might easily have snatched it late on as they battled in the difficult conditions.
But the tally of three penalties by Edinburgh skipper and scrum-half Greig Laidlaw behind a pack that always held the upper hand was just enough to take the points and keep the team on a winning track, even if there is nothing for them to win this year.
Edinburgh brought four of their recent internationalists into the starting line-up, including hooker Ross Ford to make his 100th appearance for the club. Meanwhile, Zebre called on six Azzurri with the aim of avenging defeat for the club last September at Murrayfield by 41-10 and defeat for Italy last month in the second round of the Six Nations.
Edinburgh went into the lead after four minutes when Laidlaw landed his first penalty but it was pretty pedestrian stuff in the early stages, not helped by a series of handling errors on the soft, muddy surface disrupting the flow of play.
Zebre suddenly broke away with a long kick upfield that rolled into the 22 and Edinburgh were lucky when referee Sean Gallagher, in charge of his first PRO12 match, decided winger Leonardo Sarto went in feet first and awarded the penalty against him.
Then Edinburgh inside centre Ben Atiga did find a gap in his own half, handing off defenders and carrying the ball well over the halfway line. But his offload didn’t go to hand and Zebre were able to recover and regain the territory lost before blindside flanker Josh Sole passed out of the tackle to his back row colleague Andries Van Schalkwyk. The South African is Zebre’s top try scorer and he added another to his total when he wove a path through a crowd of bodies to go under the posts with hardly a hand laid on him. Stand-off Luciano Orquera converted. The score stung Edinburgh and they forced their way into the Italian half and into their 22. They turned down a kickable penalty to go for the corner but then made a mess of the lineout. Right on half-time Laidlaw kicked a second penalty to reduce the margin to a single point.
Within minutes of the restart he had regained the lead for Edinburgh with a third penalty after Zebre went offside ten metres from their line.
Zebre put themselves under pressure at the back with slack play and a wild pass attempting to make room for a clearance kick. It ended in a five metre scrum that Edinburgh seemed to be controlling before the referee picked out prop Willem Nel for standing up and gave the penalty to the home side.
The next scrum inside the Zebre 22 was won cleanly by Edinburgh and when Quintin Gelendhuys went in at the side at an ensuing ruck it looked inevitable that there would be more points on the board but Laidlaw’s kick slid wide.
Edinburgh were in control of the game now and applying serious pressure. After a succession of patient phases full-back Greig Tonks was held up over the line. At the five metre scrum Zebre were done for standing up. Edinburgh opted for another scrum and Netani Talei flicked the ball up for Laidlaw who would surely have scored if he hadn’t slipped in the mud.
Another scrum and another attack launched off the back of it and this time it was Stuart McInally, man of the match against Ulster, fumbling Talei’s pass when the line was beckoning and there were players free outside him.
It was all very slow and dour until there was a flash of drama as Orquera chipped over the heads of the defence and the ball landed in openside Filippo Ferrarini’s hands with nobody between him and the line but he was judged to have been in front, turning a breakaway into a penalty for Edinburgh. Laidlaw’s 45 metre attempt dropped short. Another flash of drama came with less than five minutes left when Orquera tried a speculative drop goal and the ball smacked off the crossbar and that piece of good fortune allowed an exhausted Edinburgh to stagger over the finishing line.
Zebre: P Buso, L Sarto, G Venditti, G Garcia, S Sinoti, L Orquera, T Tebaldi, A Di Marchi, D Giazzon, D Ryan. Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami, J Sole, F Ferrarubu, A Van Schalkwyk. Subs: A Mancini (for Giazzon 53), S Perugini (for Di Marchi 58), L Leibson (for Ryan 58), M Van Vuren (for Sole 58), E Caffini, A Chillon (for Tebaldi 69), S Pace, R Trevisan (for Buso 58).
Edinburgh: G Tonks, L Jones, M Scott, B Atiga, T Visser, P Francis, G Laidlaw, A Jacobsen, R Ford, W Nel, P Parker, S Cox, S McInally, R Rennie, N Talei. Subs: S Lawrie (for Ford 74), J Yapp (for Jacobsen 63), G Cross (for Nel 54), R McAlpine, H Watson (for Rennie 40), S Kennedy, H Leonard, T Brown.