Edinburgh 16 - 15 Zebre: Capital men hold on for narrow win

Jason Tovey congratulates Stuart McInally on his first-half try. It turned out to be the hosts' only try of the match. Picture: SNS
Jason Tovey congratulates Stuart McInally on his first-half try. It turned out to be the hosts' only try of the match. Picture: SNS
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Edinburgh Rugby ended their run of recent Guinness Pro14 defeats with a 16-15 win over Zebre last night at Myreside, but it was far from a vintage performance.

Richard Cockerill’s men went into this one on the back of losses to Benetton, the Scarlets and Leinster and needed a boost before Europe next week. They showed battling qualities, but made plenty of errors in this one-point victory which will need to be looked at.

Afterwards, Cockerill, who has been very critical of referees in recent weeks, had yet another pop at the officials and even suggested that the man in the middle last night, Italian Marius Mitrea, could be reprimanded for his performance.

“It is hard to play any type of rugby when the game is poorly officiated,” said the Edinburgh head coach. “We have had some really, really bad calls in the last four weeks. This week there seemed to be no offside line. We can all see it, why are things being ignored?

“My players are accountable when they play poorly as am I, but will the referee from this game be reprimanded? We will have to wait and see.”

Zebre, who were coming off the back of wins against the Southern Kings and Ulster, started brightly and had a couple of early breaks by winger Giovanbattista Venditti.

Edinburgh then got themselves into proceedings and were awarded a penalty in front of the posts. That was in the ninth minute and stand-off Jason Tovey kicked it to make it 3-0.

It did not take long for the Italians to win a kickable penalty of their own three minutes later. It looked simple enough, but stand-off Carlo
Canna, a man with 22 Italy caps, somehow kicked it wide.

It was Zebre with most of the possession and they made it count in the 21st minute. After some nice handling, centre Tommaso Boni slipped a neat pass to South African back-row Johan Meyer 35 metres out and he did the rest, barging through a couple of poor tackles for an unconverted try.

Edinburgh were all at sea and Zebre launched another attack from the kick-off, only a brave tackle from full-back Blair Kinghorn stopping Matteo Minozzi going over.

He was injured in the process, though, and had to be replaced by Duncan Weir. Edinburgh needed something to spark them into life and they got it through hooker Stuart McInally. The 27-year-old received the ball in the midfield just inside his own half, went through a couple of tackles and then pinned his ears back. He made it to the try line to touch down and Weir’s conversion gave Edinburgh a 10-5 lead they scarcely deserved just after the half hour mark.

That was the way it stayed at the break, but there was plenty to work on. Edinburgh did look more purposeful and had more possession in the first ten minutes of the second half, but could not add to their tally.

And it was Zebre who nearly
added their second try of the night soon after, a great break through the middle by replacement Ciaran Gaffney nearly setting up Venditti, but the ball was lost forward.

Robbie Fruean soon joined the action and winger Dougie Fife then snaked his way some 60 metres across the pitch and into the Zebre 22.

He had two players outside him, took the wrong option to kick, but Edinburgh won a penalty which Weir kicked to make it 13-5 in the 57th minute.

Zebre were soon just a point behind, scrum-half Marcello Violi charging down a kick by opposite number Nathan Fowles to run in for the converted try.

Currie Chieftains’ Luke 
Crosbie then came on for an Edinburgh debut while Tovey was forced off, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne coming on.

With 14 minutes to go the Italians took a 15-13 lead with a Violi penalty and Edinburgh had to dig deep. Within three minutes they had managed 
to win a penalty in the visitors’ 22, Weir kicking it to give 
them a slender one point advantage.

With eight minutes remaining centre James Johnstone took a knee to the face and was down for a period before being stretched off.

Nails were being bitten in the crowd for the remainder of the match as Zebre looked to take the win their performance probably deserved, but Edinburgh held on.