Edinburgh’s second successive loss in the league leaves a big question mark over the club’s stated goal of making the end-of-season play-offs, especially since the team that beat them is one of their main rivals for the spot.
Edinburgh have now lost three of their last four league matches. Leinster are out in front in conference B – they actually qualified last weekend – leaving four teams, Benetton, the Scarlets, Ulster and Edinburgh, to duke it out for the remaining two play-off places.
“In isolation it’s disappointing,” said Richard Cockerill, right, looking back at Saturday’s loss. “But I just said to the boys we’ve got four games to go, there is every chance we can qualify in that top three and we will fight every inch to make sure that we do that.
“Our season is very much alive, but when you get an opportunity you have to take it and it’s hard work in the Six Nations period, but we have to deal with that.
“Notwithstanding,that we have to learn when we are two points up not to overplay in our own half and we don’t have to force the game and we have to control the game and at times we didn’t.”
Cockerill was alluding to a moment of madness in the second half when Edinburgh overplayed their hand during what should have been a textbook exit. Instead, No 8 Ally Miller attempted a long pass from the base of the scrum to Chris Dean. The delivery was poor, Dean knocked on and, from the attacking scrum, Benetton’s replacement stand-off Antonio Rizzi was first to Monty Ioane’s grubber kick, according to the Italian TMO, although Edinburgh full-back Tom Brown will argue otherwise until the day he dies.
“I haven’t seen it close enough to be honest, I need to see it close up,” said Cockerill of the contentious Rizzi try.
“They are a very good defence if you run at bodies. We had better shape to our attack [in the second half] and that led to some opportunities for us. Look, they have only lost to Leinster and Munster [in Italy] the whole season so they are a difficult side to beat here and we maybe made it more difficult for ourselves than we needed to.
“I’ll look at the try they scored from the kick through, but we had opportunities to exit our 22 better and we need to learn that. Unfortunately that hurt us today.”
A late penalty by Rizzi was just another nail in Edinburgh’s coffin, taking away what would have been a useful losing bonus. The replacement was only on the field for 13 minutes and still claimed ten of Benetton’s 18 points with a try, a conversion and that late penalty to leave Edinburgh in fifth place.
On the plus side, both WP Nel and Hamish Watson came through unscathed and Cockerill conceded that their replacement on 40 and 50 minutes respectively was at the behest of national coach Gregor Townsend. Both are likely to feature in the Scotland squad to take on Wales, announced on Thursday afternoon.
Ben Toolis came off the bench at the break and made his presence felt in a much improved second-half performance by Edinburgh, in which a superb solo try by centre James Johnstone was the highlight of the match.
Johnstone made his name in the seven-a-side game but such has been his recent form that he attracted the interest of Townsend and was included in the wider Scotland training squad.
With Scotland suffering a midfield injury crisis, Johnstone picked a good time to catch the selectors’ eye.
On the wing, teenager Jack Blain did nothing wrong but didn’t get much of a chance to show what he could do with the ball in hand in a closely-contested match. Both breakaways Miller and Luke Crosbie worked tirelessly.
“Look, this won’t be the game that defines whether we are in the play-offs or not,” Cockerill insisted. “There are plenty aspects in the game where we should have done better on the day. We have a compromised squad with a couple of players to come back and they are a good squad and a good side, so really, really tight margins tonight and we have to manage tight margins better.”