Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons praised his side for a second-half showing that “saved our season” as they beat Zebre 29-0 at BT Murrayfield last night.
At half-time they were only 3-0 up against the second bottom side, who hadn’t registered a single point in their past two games, and left it until the very last play of the game to secure the bonus-point win which takes them temporarily fifth in the Guinness Pro12 table.
Seeking a top-six finish which will mean a return to European Champions Cup rugby, Edinburgh knew four tries would be crucial but only when replacement lock Alex Toolis crashed over at the death was the job done.
Solomons said: “Our first half was very poor. We didn’t fire a single shot and we had 40 minutes to save our season basically. We got the critical bonus point.”
Wing Damien Hoyland scored two tries and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne made a crucial difference when he came off the bench early in the second half, scoring a try of his own and having a hand in all the others.
Debutant stand-off Jason Tovey was man of the match and contributed three conversions and a penalty.
“Sam definitely increased the tempo, which replacements should do. He made a positive difference,” added Solomons.
“Jason Tovey was outstanding for us, he gave us direction and kicked magnificently. I thought he had a really good game.”
For all the diplomatic talk about making sure of the win first it was clear to everyone, with trips to Leinster and Munster to follow, that a try bonus point was imperative. That was something that Edinburgh had only achieved once this season and any hopes that the home side might tear up the script and run riot against the Italian strugglers was soon put to bed in a frustrating opening period which started badly when skipper Mike Coman’s comeback and 50th appearance for the club lasted only six minutes when he was forced off injured and replaced by young Magnus Bradbury.
New boy Tovey did get Edinburgh off the mark with a penalty seven minutes later and a bright phase saw Mike Allen crash over for what seemed to be the opening try. However, the TV screens soon showed that the offload from his inside centre Phil Burleigh was clearly forward.
Edinburgh spurned a couple of shots at goal as they searched for the first strike against a side that had failed to score a single point in their past two outings.
Their bulky stand-off Kelly Haimona narrowly missed the chance to break that duck with a penalty effort but they looked to have gone even better and snatched a half-time lead when hooker Fabiani Oliviero scurried in at the left-hand corner, only for Edinburgh’s blushes to be saved by the TMO when a blatant obstruction by second row and skipper Quintin Geldenhuys saw the try denied.
At the start of the second half, McInally replaced Ross Ford and assumed the captaincy his fellow hooker had inherited from Coman and eight minutes later scrum-half Hidalgo-Clyne was introduced as Edinburgh desperately tried to inject some spark into proceedings.
A ruck offence 38 metres from the posts gave the visitors the first scoring opportunity but Haimona was again wayward. Then in the 52nd minute, finally, Edinburgh made the breakthrough and it was Hidalgo-Clyne who did the damage as his clever kick through was chased by wing Hoyland, whose own deft boot allowed him to gather and touch down. Tovey added the conversion to make it 10-0. The Italians had shown admirable spirit but, understandably, that try knocked the fight out of them and Hoyland doubled his tally five minutes later. A lineout and drive to the line saw Edinburgh move left then right and the young wing injected the space out wide to dive over.
Tovey’s touchline conversion kept the scoreboard ticking over and, after a bit of a lull the home side got the third try as the clocked approached the last ten minutes.
Hidalgo-Clyne profited from excellent work by Tovey and McInally to dart in at the left of the posts and the Welshman added the extras to open up a 24-point lead.
Zebre were in no mood to play patsies and found some reserves of doggedness to frustrate their hosts.
A great kick chase by Hoyland forced a penalty with three minutes left and a scrum ensued five metres out.
Another penalty followed and was quickly taken as the home pack pounded the opposition line. They went again and, after the ball went wide left, substitute lock Toolis was the man on hand to take Hidalgo-Clyne’s feed and crash in at the corner to the delight and relief of the near 4000 BT Murrayfield crowd.
Scorers; Tries: Hoyland (2), Hidalgo-Clyne, A Toolis. Cons: Tovey (3); Pen: Tovey.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Hoyland, M Allen, P Burleigh, T Brown; J Tovey, S Kennedy; A Dickinson, R Ford, W Nel, A Bresler, B Toolis, M Coman, H Watson, C du Preez. Substitutes used: S McInally, A Dell, J Andress, M Bradbury, A Toolis, S Hidalgo-Clyne, C Dean, W Helu.
Zebre: K van Zyl; U Beyers, T Boni, M Pratichetti, L Sarto; K Haimona, G Palazzanni; A Lovotti, O Fabiani, D Chistolini, Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami, J Cook, F Ruzza, J Meyer. Substitutes used: B Postiglioni, G Roan, P Ceccarelli, G Koegelenberg, E Caffini, L Burgess, C Canna, G Bisegni.
Referee: L Hodges (Wales). Attendance: 3,799