Scotland flanker Ross Rennie made a winning return to action from off the bench after a lengthy injury absence as Edinburgh Rugby just held out for a 25-23 win over Zebre at Murrayfield.
For long periods, the Italians played in a fashion which belied the fact that they have only ever won a single match in the PRO 12 but Edinburgh, helped by a brilliant Rennie tackle on Brendan Leonard in his first match since March due to shoulder trouble, held firm to post rare back-to-back victories.
Down 12-17 at half-time, Edinburgh just did enough to dig out a win with their much-changed team and, in doing so, were also indebted to some powerful ball-carrying from Tongan hooker Aleki Lutui while Cornell Du Preez, who scored a try along with Greg Tonks and Willem Nel, gained man-of-the-match honours.
Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons said: “We deserved the win on the night. It was a tough game and tough for a lot of guys coming in because they haven’t played. The real positive is we hung in and got the win. It’s very, very important that you win those games. It’s fantastic to have Ross back, we got him 15 minutes and he is obviously a very, very fine player.
“We certainly had some territorial advantage in second half but, because the pressure came off them, they got out of jail.
“We have made tremendous progress in the last two months. We’ve played better and better.
“I’ve got a handle now on what we have got.”
Edinburgh spent much of the opening quarter on the back foot before finishing the period in style.
Harry Leonard was both villain and hero as the stand off passed up a straightforward penalty kick then – after Orquera had opened for the visitors when Atiga went offside – it was his half break that fed Dougie Fife, who put Greig Tonks in at the corner. It was Tonks’ second try against Italian opposition in as many weeks but Leonard failed to crown the score with a conversion.
There was a touch of groundhog day when Edinburgh followed up in 28 minutes with a try by Nel, who was on the scoresheet alongside Tonks a week earlier.
Edinburgh had certainly been clinical in maximising opportunities and this second try came after Zebre had been shoved off their own scrum.
At the ruck which ensued, Nel then battled over for Leonard to convert.
Instead of kicking on, Edinburgh were caught straight away with a sucker blow as Venditti broke and handed over to Tommaso Iannone, who scored near the posts.
Orquera converted and soon Edinburgh were under pressure again when Cuthbert committed a basic error by fumbling an easy catch.
From the resultant scrum, Zebre’s All Black scrum half Brendan Leonard kicked through and Kennedy had to concede a five-metre set-piece which proved the gateway to the visitors’ second try.
A series of drives were well contained but, when Zebre spun the ball wide, winger Sarti bulldozed over by the corner flag with Orquera converting.
Sean Cox came on for Izak van der Westhuizen at the interval and, before the newcomer could settle, a penalty advanced for backchat saw Leonard cut the deficit.
Soon, though, Zebre were looking to carry on where they left off and Edinburgh were grateful for a knock-on a couple of metres from their line.
Then Kennedy had to produce a notable tackle to keep Berryman out after Leonard had missed touch and, when Zebre came again the scrambled defence was magnificent.
Edinburgh moved upfield and a penalty into the corner from Tonks provided the platform from which Du Preez barrelled over for a try, Leonard’s angled conversion taking the score to 22-17.
Edinburgh had a first try bonus point of the season in their sights but instead had to be content with another Leonard penalty which left the Italians requiring two scores.
However, again Edinburgh couldn’t consolidate, Orquera slotting a 67th-minute penalty for the Italians’ first points of the half.
That was the cue for Test flanker Rennie to make his entrance while James Hilterbrand was given a run at hooker.
Despite bringing on fresh legs, Edinburgh just could not shake off gutsy opponents who came back to within a couple of points when Orquera slotted a third penalty.
Sustained pressure then saw Orquera just fire wide with a drop goal attempt then have an effort charged down by Kennedy as Edinburgh held out for a hard-earned victory.
Edinburgh: Tries: Tonks, Nel, Du Preez. Conversions: Leonard (2). Penalties: Leonard (2).
Zebre: Try: Iannone, Sarto. Conversions: Orquera (2). Penalties: Orquera (3).
Edinburgh: Tonks, Fife, Dominguez, Atiga, Cuthbert, Leonard, Kennedy, Blaauw (Dickinson, 49), Lutui (Hilterbrand, 69), Nel, Gilchrist, van der Westhuizen (Cox, 40), Leonardi (Rennie, 69), Du Preez, Grant. Subs not used: Cross, Hidalgo-Clyne, Beard, Jones.
Zebre: Dion, Leonardo, Iannone, Garcia, Venditti (Tonniolatti, 58), Orquera, Leonard, Perugini (De Marchi, 70), Giazzon (Manici. 53) Chistolini (Ryan, 72), Geldenhuys, Bortolami (Odietti, 70), Cristiano, Vunisa, Caffini. Subs not used: Leibson, Van Vuren, Chillon.
Referee: L Hodges (Wales).