With four matches still to play Edinburgh’s play-off hopes are on a knife edge following this defeat by one of their main rivals.
While it was difficult to argue with the result given Benetton were the better side, the match was marked by two late events, one contentious call by the TMO Alan Falzone and a ten-point contribution from replacement stand-off Antonio Rizzi who made a huge contribution off the bench.
Deep inside the final quarter of the match and defending a two-point lead, an Edinburgh error conceded an attacking scrum to the Italians and a few phases later winger Monty Ioane jabbed a grubber kick into the dead ball area.
Rizzi set off after it but the bounce seemed to favour Edinburgh full-back Tom Brown who insisted TV replays seemed to back him, only for the TMO to instruct George Clancy to award the try.
Rizzi converted his own try, Benetton defended their lead better than Edinburgh had done and a late penalty in the final moments of the game meant that the visitors returned home without so much as a consolation bonus point.
“ I haven’t seen it (the TMO call) close up, it’s pretty manic here. I need to see it close up,” said Richard Cockerill after the match.
“We played to our potential with what we’ve got. We had chances to exit our half of the field when we were 10-8 up but we didn’t and we turned ball over and we invited them into our 22 and they punished us.
“We are bitterly disappointed but a lot of guys are missing. We are working hard but didn’t get the result and we need to learn from that.”
On a positive note both WP Nel and Hamish Watson, subbed at 40 and 50 minutes respectively, came through unscathed and are available if Scotland need them.
The first half was entirely forgettable with both defences on top of the opposition offence. Jaco van der Walt kicked a penalty for Edinburgh after only two minutes, 30 minutes later Ian McKinley did the same for Benetton and that was that as far as the scoring went.
Any time one side got into the opposition half they would concede a penalty or a turnover. James Johnstone, Pierre Schoeman and David Cherry all made important turnovers inside their own 22 for Edinburgh although the latter was replaced on 24 minutes by Ross Ford.
The bulky hooker helped Edinburgh win a couple of scrum penalties but elsewhere Benetton’s defence was the most impressive thing on display. Without their Fijian talisman, Viliame Mata, Edinburgh are short of ideas in attack and only the individual brilliance of Johnstone got them over the Benetton try line yesterday.
Edinburgh’s big forward pack got no change from the green defensive line which halted them like a train hitting the buffers. At times it seemed like Henry Pyrgos’ box kicks were Edinburgh best, for which read “only” offensive weapon… it was like watching Ireland.
The home team enjoyed the better of the opening half, getting over the gain line with a little more conviction and energy.
They even managed to work the ball over the Edinburgh line only to realise that Clancy had blown for a forward pass.
Matters improved after the break with Benetton taking the lead only four minutes into the second half. Ross Ford got his arrows wrong at a defensive lineout, though not by much, and from the attacking scrum Benetton ran through a few phases before 20-year-old lock forward Niccolo Cannone ran over the combined effort of Chris Dean and Schoeman.
The score seemed to galvanise Edinburgh into action. Luke Crosbie enjoyed a good run up the left flank and when Edinburgh moved the ball right James Johnstone stepped back inside one, two, three, four despairing tackles to score by the posts. Van der Walt’s conversion nosed Edinburgh back in front.
The match moved into the final quarter with Edinburgh nursing their slender lead only for the visitors to make a horrible mess of a simple exit. Ally Miller’s pass was behind Dean, and Benetton were awarded an attacking scum in the Edinburgh red zone with the clock ticking and Rizzi poised to strike.