They struggled to kill off their opponents at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi and only led by a point at half-time, but the arrival off the bench of the likes of Ben Vellacott saw them safely home, with the scrum-half himself scoring the vital fourth try after earlier five-pointers from Jack Blain, Stuart McInally and Boan Venter.
An 18-point haul from the opening block of five games in the URC is a more than satisfactory start to life under head coach Mike Blair, to whom this win, while less than exhilarating, was important because of the perseverance shown by his side when far from everything was going their way. “It wasn’t ideal in terms of the performance, but we’ve got through these five games pretty successfully,” he said. “There’s still a lot of growth in us and a lot of areas we can get better. But coming away to Italy and taking five points is definitely a positive.
“We’re a club who are at the start of a journey together. It’s good to see the growth in terms of where we’re going.”
Edinburgh are now three points ahead of Glasgow Warriors, and another three ahead of Benetton. The pecking order between those three teams and Zebre will matter at the end of the season when a Champions Cup place goes to the best side, but for the time being Blair is more concerned with how his team fare in individual head-to-head games.
“To be honest, I’ve tried not to look at the table too much,” he added. “It’s once you get to the business end of the season things like that become more important. Especially with the way the league is just now and the different conferences, there’s all sorts going on.”
There was not very much at all going on in the first half of this match, in which Blair Kinghorn opened the scoring with a penalty, but then opted for touch when a similar award was made – not the last time such a decision would be taken as Edinburgh went in search of tries. Zebre went ahead after quarter of an hour when winger Pierre Bruno came infield and found a big gap following heavy pressure by his back. Carlo Canna converted, but Edinburgh regained the lead before the break through an unconverted try from Blain after good work by Jamie Ritchie.
The match remained in the balance for the first ten minutes of the second half, but Vellacott and fellow-substitute Venter soon made their presence felt when pressed into action. McInally scored off a lineout drive, and then, within a minute of Zebre going a man down for not retreating ten metres, Venter finished off from close range.
Kinghorn’s conversion of the latter try was just about enough for his team to feel they were home and dry, but Zebre kept in touch with a penalty from Antonio Rizzi. However, Edinburgh had gone to Italy in search of the bonus point, and they duly completed the quest when Vellacott slipped in on the blindside after a maul had been stopped on the line. Kinghorn converted to complete a satisfying if unscintillating afternoon’s work.