Edinburgh back in the top eight but Castres and Saracens pose far sterner tests as focus switches to Europe

A return to winning ways finds Edinburgh ensconced back inside the all-important top eight of the United Rugby Championship – but the 24-17 victory over Zebre was as hard fought as they come.

Bill Mata had a big impact off the bench in Edinburgh's hard-fought win over Zebre at DAM Health Stadium. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)
Bill Mata had a big impact off the bench in Edinburgh's hard-fought win over Zebre at DAM Health Stadium. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

The Italian visitors came perilously close to pulling off an upset and it took two converted tries from Mike Blair’s side inside the final 11 minutes to avoid the ignominy of becoming the first URC side to fail to beat Zebre this campaign. Blair later called it Edinburgh’s best win of the season but the coach knows his squad will need to take a significant step up over the next fortnight when they face Castres and Saracens in the Heineken Champions Cup.

“Absolutely but I honestly believe we are showing traits that are important to enable us to win these games,” said Blair. “The character. Going to Castres is one of the toughest places to go in France, in Europe with the crowd and the size of their pack, with the record they have. We have shown in the last five games we can play. We just need to put it together, that is the key.”

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Saturday’s win was Edinburgh’s first in the league since they defeated Cardiff away in October but they find themselves back among the play-off places – just – with six regular season fixtures left to play. First-half tries from Charlie Shiel and Jack Blain had them 10-0 ahead but Zebre came thundering back at the start of the second period and drew level with a double from Simone Gesi. Edinburgh looked to their bench for inspiration and Bill Mata provided it but Zebre broke away, with Eden Tiff scoring a fine solo try which he converted.

Trailing 17-10 and with time running out, Edinburgh snapped into gear and Blair Kinghorn converted Connor Boyle’s try to draw them level before replacement hooker Paddy Harrison saved the day with a last-gasp try.

“This is hopefully the start of momentum building for us,” said Cammy Hutchison, the Edinburgh centre. “We’re away to Castres and then we’ve got Saracens at home and it’s important we show up and use this as a launchpad. There’s plenty for us to go away and work on but the important thing is to use the result to build a buzz around the squad.”

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