Fifteen minutes into this one, head coach Alan Solomons already had a feeling it might not be Edinburgh’s day.
Having pitched up in northern Italy in the middle of a lock-forward crisis, the beleaguered South African grimaced in discomfort when his already depleted hand was weakened even further with the early withdrawal of Ollie Atkins.
Upon reflection, the set-piece meltdown which ensued was perhaps unsurprising – a 26-13 defeat.
Normally, Grant Gilchrist runs the Edinburgh line-out and when he’s not there the job falls to Izak van der Westhuizen. If both are unavailable, Atkins is the go-to man.
Take all three out of the equation and you get a whole lot of confusion en route to a chastening defeat away to the league’s basement battlers.
“It was very difficult for us,” lamented Solomons at the end of it all. “We certainly took a knock early on losing Ollie because we were already without three other locks. Our front five was already decimated with injury and that one left our set piece in tatters.
“What we saw was that our line-out and scrum really struggled. It’s just one of those things ... sometimes things run a little a bit against you and you just have to rough it out.”
In the end, Edinburgh were well beaten, outscored by three tries to one and denied so much as a losing bonus point by the somewhat rampant Italians.
Matt Scott’s 45th minute try hinted at a possible revival but it proved no more than a temporary reprieve against a Zebre side with ambitions of their own. This was the first time ever that they had beaten Scottish opponents, and the result kept them in the hunt for automatic qualification for next year’s Champions Cup.
Paradoxically, the result effectively signalled the end of Edinburgh’s campaign, the prospect of Challenge Cup rugby next season now a discomforting reality. “Without doubt, it’s the nail in the coffin,” agreed Solomons. “We made errors, and we were certainly made to pay for those errors.
“However, despite all the difficulties, I felt that in the second half we at least showed a little bit of grit,” he added.
“We stuck to things and we didn’t throw in the towel.
“I thought Mike Coman worked really hard throughout, while we also had Ben and Alex Toolis in there making their first starts, and I thought both were very brave.”
With both Grant and Atkins expected to miss the derby clash on Saturday against Glasgow with ankle and knee injuries respectively, the week ahead has a foreboding look to it.
Solomons, however, remains upbeat, and is still hoping that a strong finish to this campaign can have a knock-on effect beyond the summer break.
“I think it’s a lot about next season, now,” he said.
“We want to finish the season in the right manner, which is very important for us. Our plans for next season are pretty much in place, at this point.
“It’s been a really tough year for everybody, but as in the second half, we showed a lot of grit and we have to do that until the end of the season.”
Zebre: Tries: Venditti, Cristiano, Ratuvou. Con: Orquera. Pens: Orquera, Garcia (2).
Edinburgh: Try: Scott. Con: Cuthbert. Pens: Bezuidenhout (2).
Zebre: D Odiete; L Sarto, T Iannone (G Garcia 62), G Garcia (K Ratuvou 55), G Venditti; L Orquera, B Leonard; M Aguero, D Giazzon (T D’Apice 68), D Chistolini (D Ryan 60); Q Geldenhuys (capt), G Biagi; F Cristiano (F Ferrarini 68), A Van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa.
Edinburgh: J Cuthbert; T Brown, M Scott, A Strauss, T Visser; C Bezuidenhout (H Leonard 41), S Kennedy (G Hart 41); W Blaauw, R Ford (J Hilterband 54), W Nel, B Toolis (A Toolis 54), O Atkins (C Du Preez 15); M Coman (capt), R Grant (S Beard 57), D Denton.
Referee: P Fitzgibbons (IRFU)