POWER and teamwork at the set-piece was the key to Edinburgh getting everything they needed out of this game. Their domination of the scrum set the tone for the whole evening with countless penalties coming their way as Zebre continually collapsed under the strain, while four of the home team’s five tries came from their expert line-out work.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Grant 2, Fife, Ford, McInally; Con: Hidalgo-Clyne 3; Pen: Hidalgo-Clyne 2.
This bonus point win catapults the boys from the Scottish capital to four points ahead of both Scarlets and Connacht in the race for sixth place in the Guinness Pro 12 table, although both those teams will be looking to manoeuvre their way into that all-important European Champions Cup qualifying spot by getting positive results today.
So Edinburgh will be looking for their old rivals Glasgow Warriors to do them a favour in Galway at lunchtime, while they will be hoping that the Dragons register a markedly improved performance after that dismal defeat at Murrayfield last Friday night to give the Scarlets a bloody nose at Rodney Parade later in the afternoon.
The debate over whether or not Edinburgh should be based at Murrayfield has gone on for so long that it has become tiresome, but on occasions like this the insanity of the situation is put into particularly sharp focus. The huge stadium was so empty and the atmosphere so mooted as a direct consequence that it was hard to believe that this was a sporting occasion of meaningful significance.
If Scottish Rugby are determined to carry on with a policy of using free world-class facilities in EH12 for the majority of their games, instead of spending a bit of money to play in a less salubrious but more appropriately sized environment, then they should start considering making exceptions to that rule for the several matches such as this which we know are destined to attract particularly small crowds.
When there are 5,000 fans in Murrayfield it is hard enough to generate an atmosphere, but when there is only a doubtful 3,490 then it is farcical.
Of course, the players are not to blame for any of this, and it is to their credit that Edinburgh did a pretty good job of giving the crowd something to shout about with a purposeful start. Their driven line-out, in particular, caused Zebre all sorts of problems. It was this weapon which brought them their first try in the seventh minute – with Roddy Grant touching down after the Edinburgh pack had rumbled a good ten yards to cross the whitewash.
Edinburgh extended their lead with a Sam Hidalgo-Clyne penalty in the 19th minute, and then showed that they are not only effective when they stick the ball up their jumper, with slick handling in midfield creating a gap for Dougie Fife to go over on the right touchline.
In a desperate attempt to stop Edinburgh’s line-out drive, Zebre resorted to taking out jumpers illegally, and paid a predictable price when Hidalgo-Clyne slotted the resultant penalty.
Zebre were reduced to 13 men for a period just before half-time. First, tight-head prop Dario Christolini was sent to the cooler for collapsing the scrum, then winger Giulio Toniolatti went the same way after he challenged Tim Visser for the ball in the air. Edinburgh failed to make their extra men count, but no sooner had Zebre been restored to a full complement than they were once again a man down when loose-head prop Matias Aguero was sin-binned after yet another collapsed scrum.
This time, Edinburgh took immediate advantage, by kicking to the corner then working a clever line-out move which involved Alasdair Dickinson collecting the ball at chest level at the front, feeding Stuart McInally as he swept towards the touchline, and he in turn released Ross Ford on an irresistible charge towards the line.
The bonus point was secured just four minutes later with Grant once again claiming the points after another pulverising line-out drive.
We were still a few minutes short of the hour mark, but Edinburgh were in no rush to fully humiliate their hapless Italian guests, and it wasn’t until the final play of the match that they troubled the scoreboard operator again, with McInally diving over after a driven line-out.
A stiffer test will meet Alan Solomons’ team next week when they travel to the Stoop to take on Gloucester in the European Challenge Cup final, but that is a concern for another day. For the moment they can take satisfaction in getting a job done with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency.
They have not always made it look this easy.
Edinburgh: T Brown; D Fife, S Beard (C Bezuidenhout 70), A Strauss (T Heathcote 56), T Visser; P Burleigh, S Hidalgo-Clyne (N Fowles 64); A Dickinson (R Sutherland 64), R Ford (N Cochrane 64), W Nel (J Andress 60), A Bresler (F McKenzie 57), B Toolis, S McInally, R Grant, M Coman (C du Preez 20).
Zebre: H Daniller, G Toniolatti, M Bergamasco (M Pratichetti 54), G Garcia, D Odiete; L Orquera, G Palazzani; M Aguero, A Manici (O Fabiani 50), D Christolini V Bernabo, M Bortolami (A Mahu 50), F Cristiano, A Van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa (L Redolfini 33).