­Edinburgh 50-15 Zebre: Mark Bennett hat-trick restores some pride

After demoralising defeats by the national team and Glasgow Warriors in their first outings of the season, Edinburgh restored an element of pride to Scottish rugby with a solid start to their Guinness Pro14 campaign. Mark Bennett starred with three of his team’s seven tries, but above all this was a solid team effort, and once some early inconsistency was ironed out there was only ever going to be one winner.

Mark Bennett celebrates the second try of his hat-trick against Zebre. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS

A well-executed lineout drive following a penalty gave Edinburgh the lead, with Fraser McKenzie touching down and Jaco van der Walt adding the conversion. After their lacklustre start Zebre began to threaten with ball in hand, then deservedly got on the board through a Francois Brummer penalty. The stand-off was short with an ill-advised drop-goal attempt from halfway, but at least it showed an element of adventure.

Yet, while the visitors had a decent cutting edge in attack, they were less impressive in defence, and fell further behind when Bennett got Edinburgh’s second try. A patient drive had taken the home side up to within five metres of the line, and when captain Nic Groom sent a low kick behind the defence, the centre was fastest to react, seizing the loose ball then touching down to leave Van der Walt a simple conversion.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

As they had done after their first score, however, Edinburgh took their foot off the gas, and Zebre took advantage. Pinned back in his own 22, Groom attempted a clearance kick which was charged down by Giovanni Licata, who was able to chase the loose ball down to score just short of the dead-ball line.

Groom soon made amends in what was becoming a topsy-turvy game, though, scoring his team’s third converted try with a sprint from the edge of the 22 after a powerful burst down the left by Duhan van der Merwe. Five minutes from half-time, Bennett and Matt Scott combined for the bonus-point score. Pierre Schoeman had a hand in the move too, feeding Scott, who passed out wide to his fellow-centre then accepted the return. The score close to the posts meant another simple two points for Van der Walt, and the fly-half added a penalty in the last seconds of the half.

After a turgid start to the second half, Bennett got his own second try and his team’s fifth by breaking through three tackles from just inside the 22.

Both coaches went through their benches after that, and former Glasgow prop Jamie Bhatti came on to join starters Groom and Nic Haining to make his competitive Edinburgh debut.

Zebre substitute Federico Mori showed a good turn of pace to score a fine solo try with a dozen minutes left, but Edinburgh soon replied, with Charlie Shiel breaking clear then putting Bennett through for his hat-trick. Jamie Farndale added a seventh try on time from a Simon Hickey punt.

On a generally satisfactory evening, the only real concern for Edinburgh was the injury, apparently to a knee, that saw Scott limp off with some 25 minutes to go.