Edinburgh’s renaissance under interim head coach Duncan Hodge came to a shuddering halt last night as they were stunned 19-14 by bottom side Zebre at BT Murrayfield.
A late try by Giovanbattista Venditti gave the Italians their first win of the season after Edinburgh had appeared to have recovered from a sluggish start to grind out an uninspiring win.
Fully expected to make it four wins in a row after a string of buccaneering wins, the home side were surprisingly insipid for most of the game and trailed 12-0 midway through the second half before two converted tries appeared to have got them out of jail.
However, Zebre showed great spirit and Venditti exploited an overlap down the left for a late score to seal the upset.
A disappointed Hodge said: “We weren’t good enough in a lot of areas. Not what we expect after the last three weeks.
“We got back in the game and then at the end were just naive. Our mental process just went.”
The coach denied that complacency had anything to do with the poor performance. “That’s not how we prepared. There’s always something as a coach to be wary of and we prepared well. The warm-up was excellent but that doesn’t count for anything.
“We didn’t want to panic at half-time. We thought they would tire in the second half and they did. After getting ahead in that last five or six minutes we just made some bad calls.”
With high-flying Ulster visiting on Friday, Hodge knows his troops will have to get their act together quickly. “They’re a good side so yeah it’s a big week next week and we’ll need a big performance.
Following last Saturday’s classic 36-35 victory over Harlequins expectations were high for a return to Guinness Pro12 action but the first 20 minutes proved to be a subdued affair, with visiting stand-off Carlos Canna’s penalty the only points of the opening quarter.
Hooker Stuart McInally was taken off for a head injury assessment and replaced by the experienced Ross Ford before Canna got another shot at the posts and made no mistake for a 6-0 lead.
Apart from a dangerous dart by Blair Kinghorn, Edinburgh hadn’t really offered much in attack and, when they did win a kickable penalty, stand-off Jason Tovey opted for touch. The opportunity was squandered, however, by a botched lineout.
Tovey then limped off which led to a reshuffle in the backline, Kinghorn moving to stand-off and Glenn Bryce coming off the bench to cover full-back.
The half ended with the Italians pressing and looking the more likely.
They settled for a drop goal right on the whistle, Canna adding another three to his points total, and trotted off contentedly 9-0 up at the break.
The scene in the home dressing is likely to have been more fraught, with Hodge, you would imagine, needing to give his players the sternest team talk so far since he took charge from Alan Solomons.
With Tovey back to the fray, they almost got off to the best possible start as the first attack of the second period saw Phil Burleigh cut through the Zebre defence before finding flanker Viliame Mata in the opposition 22.
The Fijian’s excellent offload almost led to Allan Dell going over in the corner but the prop dropped the ball over the line.
John Hardie was the next Edinburgh player to leave the field hurt, with Cornell du Preez coming on, as Zebre continued to frustrate their hosts. Concerns grew further in the BT Murrayfield stands when Canna was on target again in the 50th minute to open up a 12-point advantage.
The rising feelings of anxiety were then audible two minutes later when Italian referee Marius Mitrea awarded his compatriots another kickable chance but there was relief when Canna dragged the penalty wide.
As the clock ticked past the hour mark, Edinburgh finally found a way to breach what had been an admirable defensive effort from the Italians.
In contrast with the style and elan which had ripped Harlequins to shreds at times last weekend, it was brute force that was needed this time.
Ford finished off a driving maul and Kinghorn converted from wide on the right.
You always felt that one try could lead to Edinburgh seizing control and so it proved as young prop Murray McCallum crashed over after a series of drives, with sub scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne converting to put the hosts ahead for the first time.
Job done, it seemed, but there was to be a twist in the tail.