Edinburgh got their Pro14 campaign back on track with this less than convincing win over the much improved Italian side who have already beaten the Dragons and Cardiff on the road. This victory lifts Edinburgh off the bottom of Conference B, for which blessing they will breathe a sigh of relief.
The home side racked up four tries and looked far more threatening than of late with the ball in hand. However, the defensive side of the ledger was little less than disastrous, with the visiting side managing five tries of their own, three of which went to winger Luca Sperandio, who single-handedly kept his side in this game.
Benetton’s kickers managed just one conversion from five between them, Simon Hickey kicked all four of Edinburgh’s tries and Richard Cockerill will be eternally grateful to the little Kiwi this morning.
The home forwards bossed territory and possession as they have done every match this season and held the whip hand in the set scrum where they milked a couple of simple penalties in the opening quarter.
And still this match was in the balance right up to the final whistle because every time the home team put clear blue water between them and the visitors, someone, usually Sperandio, would score another try. That odd noise coming from the sidelines was the sound of defence coach Calum MacRae’s head exploding with frustration.
The opening score was posted while the stragglers were still filing into the stadium. Benetton kicked off and the visitors flooded the very first breakdown, isolating Bill Mata on his own 22 metre line for an early easy three.
Hickey responded in kind for the home team off the tee and Edinburgh bossed the opening quarter without much to show for their efforts until Henry Pyrgos hung a box kick high and handsome. When it finally fell to earth, the nearest Benetton player was in another postcode. Duhan van der Merwe pounced on the bouncing ball and almost made the line. When Edinburgh recycled, Matt Scott, pictured, made no mistake.
Just three minutes later, on the 20-minute mark, Van der Merwe finally cracked it, coming off his left wing and picking a beautiful parabola off Hickey in the 12 channel to carve open the Benetton defence and score under the posts.
Benetton got one try back almost immediately and far too easily when a simple miss-pass unlocked the Edinburgh defence for winger Sperandio to score in the corner, with Van der Merwe looking like he was still getting his breath back after his scoring exertions.
Normal service was quickly resumed. Chris Dean dummied and made a classic outside centre’s outside break to give Blair Kinghorn a free run at the line.
Hickey kicked his third conversion but just as it looked like Edinburgh would take a healthy lead into the break, Benetton’s Marco Fuser muscled the ball over the home line from close quarters after a couple of attacking lineouts.
Dougie Fife grabbed Edinburgh’s fourth, bonus-point try eight minutes into the second half, getting on the end of a long, looping pass from Kinghorn that seemed to take several lifetimes to reach the winger who dived over in the corner.
Having scored, Edinburgh again allowed a determined Italian side to march them backwards until Sperandio – again – had space on the right flank to grab his second and Benetton’s third try, keeping the visitors interested.
Ten minutes later, the same man scored his hat-trick try, a seemingly impossible task after being kiboshed first by Van der Merwe and then knocked into touch by two Edinburgh defenders. Suddenly we had a six-point game inside the final quarter and the sparse crowd inside Murrayfield was getting restless.
Hickey missed a penalty shot at goal, Benetton worked their way upfield and there was an air of inevitability about Marco Barbini’s 71st-minute try to make this a one-point match.
Luckily for the home support, Ian McKinley, on for Tommaso Allan, missed the conversion and Edinburgh somehow managed to run down the remaining nine minutes.