Edinburgh edged out 28-27 by Benetton with last kick of enthralling URC encounter
Edinburgh have made so much progress so quickly under Mike Blair that it seems churlish to criticise them for a one-point defeat – all the more so as they provided the lion’s share of the entertainment in an enthralling game.
Yet given the way the match panned out, especially the manner in which they twice let slip substantial leads before being beaten 28-27 by the last kick of the contest - a drop goal from Benetton’s Leonardo Marin - it has to be said that this was a game they could and should have won. Blair himself certainly thought so.
“Pretty gutted,” the head coach said after his team had to make do with two losing bonus points when they might well have had the full five for the win. “We put ourselves in a position to win the game but didn’t do it. We let them back into the game, which was disappointing.
“Benetton did well to get back into it and it was an excellent kick at the end for the win - but we gave them that opportunity. The upsides are there for everyone to see. There was positive stuff in there, but it was frustrating, as we should have got the win today.”
Benetton, for whom this was a second straight victory at the Stadio Monigo, have also made considerable progress in recent months. And they deserve immense credit for the character they showed in battling back from big deficits - 11 points at one stage in the first half, nine after Stuart McInally had got Edinburgh’s fourth try early in the second.
But Blair was right to suggest his team should have closed out the game. It was not as if they ran out of steam, for all that the second half lacked the frenzied magnificence of the first. Rather, they simply committed a handful of unforced errors which allowed their opponents footholds in the game.
Benetton took a fifth-minute lead through hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi, but a converted close-range try from Willem Nel then put Edinburgh ahead. A Tomas Albornoz penalty made it 8-7 to the home side, but the lead barely lasted two minutes.
Ben Vellacott, in outstanding form for the third game in a row, used his scorching pace to race clear to the line from around 35 metres out. Van der Walt converted to make it a six-point lead, and then the scrum-half got his second with a quarterback sneak from the bottom of the ruck.
Benetton hit back with a Monty Ioane try converted by Albornoz a few minutes before the break, but McInally’s try seemed to have turned the tide firmly in Edinburgh’s favour. Instead, the home team fought back, first through a Marin penalty, and then when Lucchesi got his second.
Marin’s conversion put his team back in front, and although Edinburgh were back in front within a minute through a long-range penalty by Van der Walt, the game was still in the balance. It stayed that way until the 85th minute when Marin, sitting calmly in the pocket as his pack drove upfield, struck that winning drop-goal.