Late tries from Connor Boyle and Paddy Harrison got them over the line, bursting a four-game losing run in the United Rugby Championship. Mike Blair’s side also picked up a bonus point but the result was harsh on Zebre who fought back from 10-0 down and must have sensed a first away triumph in two years could be theirs.
Blair later called it his side’s best win of the season, praising the players’ character as they fought back at the end while playing against a stiff breeze as well as doughty opponents.
Injuries and rest protocols had robbed Edinburgh of most of their big guns and the pressure was on the fringe men to ensure Zebre didn’t pick up their first win of the campaign.
With their leading lights missing there was a callow look about the home side but it was also an opportunity for the likes of Harry Paterson and Jack Blain, and the latter made a telling contribution as the home side took control with two tries in five minutes midway through the first half. Blain bagged the second, with scrum-half Charlie Shiel claiming the first.
Mark Bennett, one of the old stagers in the back division, had looked Edinburgh’s liveliest attacker and a couple of incursions into Zebre territory had helped set up promising positions. The home side moved the ball wide and Savala kicked a penalty to the corner. Sam Skinner took a clean catch at the lineout and although the maul didn’t go according to plan Connor Boyle was alert enough to pop the ball out to Shiel who darted over in the corner for his first Edinburgh try since March 2021.
The score lifted Edinburgh and a high-stepping run from Bennett took them back up the field. They built the phases before shifting the ball out via Charlie Savala, Bennett and Nick Haining to Blain who hared in for the try.
Blair Kinghorn, playing on the wing, missed both conversion attempts but Edinburgh had a ten-point cushion and they were further advantaged by the yellow card shown to Simone Gesi in the 31st minute after the Zebre winger deliberately knocked the ball from Bennett’s hands.
Gesi returned to the fray 10 minutes later and immediately made a more positive contribution as Zebre began the second half in determined mood. Their pack had Edinburgh on the backfoot and when scrum-half Allesandro Fusco spun out a long looping pass to Gesi the winger had time and space required to dot down, cutting the home side’s lead to 10-5.
They drew level seven minutes later, and it was the Fusco-Gesi combination once again. It began with a lineout maul and when Zebre went down the narrow side Fusco timed his pass to perfection for Gesi to score. Tiff Eden was off target with both conversions but Zebre were in the ascendancy.
They spurned an opportunity to take the lead when they opted to run a kickable penalty and the momentum seemed to shift back to Edinburgh, with Bill Mata - impressive off the bench - embarking on a couple of bulldozing runs. It was a good little spell for Blair’s side but they failed to profit from it and it proved costly as Zebre moved ahead for the first time with a brilliant solo try by Eden, the stand-off sidestepping his way through from the Edinburgh 22, with Paterson was unable to stop him. Eden converted to put the visitors 17-10 up with 12 minutes remaining but Edinburgh’s response was immediate. Savala kicked to the corner, and from the lineout the home pack drove Boyle over. The pressure was on Kinghorn to land the conversion five metres in from the touchline and the wing-cum-stand-off nailed it to tie things up at 17-17.
It was all set up for a grandstand finish and Edinburgh duly delivered. Camped on the Zebre line, they pushed and pushed. Mata tried his luck, then Cammy Hutchison before replacement hooker Harrison dodged his way through and forced the ball down. Edinburgh had got out of jail, with a bonus point to boot. Kinghorn drop-kicked the conversion after the wind blew the ball off the tee.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Shiel, Blain, Boyle, Harrison. Cons: Kinghorn 2.
Zebre: Tries: Gesi 2, Eden. Con: Eden.
Yellow card: Simone Gesi (Zebre).
Edinburgh: H Paterson; J Blain, M Bennett, C Hutchison (J Lang 63-67), B Kinghorn; C Savala, C Shiel (B Vellacott 55); B Venter (N Auterac 68), D Cherry (P Harrison 61), A Williams (L de Bruin 49), S Skinner, J Hodgson (M Sykes 63), L Crosbie, C Boyle, N Haining (V Mata 49).
Replacement not used: J van der Walt.
Zebre: J Trulla; P Bruno (G Prisciantelli 77), T Boni, E Lucchin (F Smith Jr 68), S Gesi; T Eden, A Fusco (R Jelic 77); P Buoafiglio (A Sanavia 65), L Bigi (J du Toit 65), M Nocera (M Hasa 65), D Visser (L Krumov 59), J Furno, G Ferrari (D Ruggeri 59), MJ Pelser, M Kvesic.
Referee: Aimee Barrett-Theron (SARU).