Edinburgh will go into Friday night’s European Challenge Cup final against Gloucester in buoyant mood after a dominant performance against basement side Zebre at BT Murrayfield last night.
Alan Solomons had warned his men not to underestimate the opposition. And they clearly heeded the words of the coach, producing a relentless effort built on a dominant contribution up front that was the platform for a victory.
The Edinburgh cause was assisted by an ill-disciplined Zebre side that had three men yellow carded. Indeed, the Italian side played a limited game and never posed a threat to the Edinburgh line. And if there was a negative aspect to the home side’s showing it was the inability to rack up more points, particularly in the opening 40 minutes when the visitors were on the rack.
Nevertheless, it was a case of ‘job done’ for Solomons’ men and the win moves the Capital outfit into the top six in the Guinness PRO12 table – at least temporarily – ahead of Connacht and Scarlets, their rivals for a Champions Cup qualifying spot, who both play today.
The victory also ensures Edinburgh still have dual targets in the cup and league, although the club’s marketing department has failed to harness the momentum, with last night’s attendance announced as 3490 – a figure inflated by the assumption that all season ticket holders were in the ground.
The Italians had the first scoring opportunity with five minutes on the clock, but Gonzalo Garcia was wide with a long-range penalty attempt. But that was as close as they would come to troubling the scoreboard operator throughout the evening, and that let off was the trigger for Edinburgh to click into action. With eight minutes gone they eased into the lead after a powerful surge shunted the Zebre pack backwards and Roddy Grant touched down.
Sam Hidalgo-Clyne banged over the conversion and he nudged the advantage into double figures after 20 minutes with a well-struck penalty following a scrum offence.
Edinburgh continued to dominate the possession and the inevitable second try came in 26 minutes when the ball was spun through four pairs of hands following a lineout on the left flank and Sam Beard sent Dougie Fife sprinting round behind the sticks to leave Hidalgo-Clyne a straightforward conversion.
The Italians were powerless against the rampant home pack and a scrum penalty proved an offence too far for Dario Chistolini who was despatched to the sin bin. His absence simply accentuated the hosts’ superiority and by half-time the gap had grown to 20 points, Hidalgo-Clyne booting another penalty, while Giulio Toniolatti joined Chistolini for ten minutes on the sidelines following a mid-air tackle on Tim Visser.
The Italians were briefly restored to 15 men, but loose head Matias Aguero was next to see yellow and immediately afterwards the Edinburgh try tally rose to three when Ross Ford took a return pass at a close range lineout and dived over. That sparked the chase for the bonus point and it came in 55 minutes when another drive by the home forwards splintered the Zebre defence and allowed Grant to dot down for a second time. Hidalgo-Clyne who had missed with his previous effort rediscovered his range to add the extras.
With the match won and the full five points in the bag, Solomons emptied the bench. That had no impact on the momentum of the game and the Edinburgh forwards rammed home their superiority in the final minute when another drive allowed Stuart McInally to plunge over for the fifth touchdown of the evening.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries – Grant (2), Fife, Ford, McInally; Cons – Hidalgo-Clyne (3); Pens – Hidalgo-Clyne (2).
Edinburgh: T Brown, D Fife, S Beard (C Bezuidenhout 69), A Strauss (T Heathcote 47), T Visser, P Burleigh, S Hidalgo-Clyne (N Fowles 66), A Dickinson (R Sutherland 64), R Ford (N Cochrane 64), WP Nel (J Andress 60), A Bressler (F McKenzie 58), B Toolis, S McInally, R Grant, M Coman (C Du Preez 56).
Zebre: H Daniller, G Toniolatti, M Bergamasco (M Pratichetti 54), G Garcia, D Odiete, L Orquera (A Chillon 69), G Palazzani (B Leonard 57), M Aguero (A Lovotti 66), A Manici (O Fabiani 50), D Chistolini (L Redolfini 56), V Bernabo, M Bortolami (A Mahu 57), F Cristiano, A Van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa (F Ferrarini 69).
Referee: L Hodges (WRU).