Edinburgh Rugby survive red card to edge out Zebre with late penalty

It was an unexpected struggle, but Edinburgh Rugby eventually managed to overcome Zebre at the DAM health Stadium 29-26 to secure a precious bonus point and move up to sixth in the URC standings.

This was supposed to be a stroll in the park for Edinburgh who had averaged 50 points in each of their last five home games. Instead, Zebre turned it into a fraught occasion for the home side with a performance full of skill and attacking intent.

Zebre haven’t won a game all season. On this showing it’s hard to see why. They go home with a bonus point, but they deserved more.

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Edinburgh played most of the second half with 14 men after Marshall Sykes’ red card and needed a penalty from Jaco van der Walt with four minutes remaining to win the match.

Edinburgh's players celebrate a tough win over Zebre.

The home side couldn’t have wished for a better start but failed to build on Mark Bennett’s try after 46 seconds. They allowed Zebre back into the game in an error-strewn first half and were fortunate to go in at the break ahead.

The opening try was simplicity itself, Kinghorn chipping neatly into space for Bennett to run on to and collect. Van der Walt converted and Zebre appeared half asleep.

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They soon woke up and winger Simone Gesi looked set to score in the corner until he was taken out by Glen Young. The tackle was high and while it may have started around the shoulder it crept up to the neck area. After a look at the screen, Irish referee Frank Murphy awarded a penalty try and sent the Edinburgh lock to the sin bin.

The Italians were having some joy at the scrum and continued to threaten. Gabriele Venditti was guilty of knocking on in a promising position but the big lock redeemed himself shortly after.

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Zebre won a lineout on the left and moved the ball through a few phases before Venditti took it on then offloaded beautifully for Junior Laloiti to score and put them 12-7 ahead.

Edinburgh were stung and responded with a try from Hutchison just before half-time. Henry Pyrgos was the creator, breaking off the back of the scrum and popping the ball up for Hutchison. Van der Walt’s conversion gave Edinburgh a 14-12 half-time lead they barely deserved.

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If Edinburgh thought they’d turned a corner, Zebre had other ideas. They came flying out the traps at the start of the second half, with Gesi scoring a wonderful solo try. The winger was in his own half when he picked up the ball but left Hamish Watson, Mesu Kunavula and Kinghorn in his wake as slalomed his way to the line. Antonio Rizzi converted and Edinburgh were suddenly 19-14 down. Things got worse shortly after when Sykes was sent off and the second row could have few complaints. He led with his shoulder in the ruck clearout, catching Zebre Danilo Fischetti's head in the process.

Edinburgh needed a quick way back and chose the direct route with a series of pick and goes before Schoeman plunged over to level things. Van der Walt’s conversion edged Edinburgh ahead 21-19.

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The home side moved further ahead as the game moved into its final quarter and it was Bennett who delivered. The centre began the run in his own half and tormented Antonio Rizzi before scoring – just – in the corner.

Back Zebre came. Edinburgh failed to clear and were stripped of the ball close to their own line. Zebre won a penalty and built again and replacement David Sisi powered his way over amid great scenes of celebration. Timothy O’Malley’s conversion made it 26-26 with five minutes left.

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It was breathless stuff but Edinburgh got their Get Out Of Jail card with four minutes left when Zebre were penalised for not rolling away. There was no question of running this one and Van der Walt stepped up and bisected the posts to win the match.

Edinburgh: Van Der Walt, Moyano, Bennett, Hutchison, Owsley, Kinghorn, Pyrgos, Schoeman, Cherry, Atalifo, Sykes, Young, Muncaster, Watson, Kunavula.

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Replacements: Lang for Hutchison (60), Courtney for Schoeman (69), McBurney for Cherry (69), Boyle for Watson (62), Hodgson for Kunavula (49). Not Used: Williams, Vellacott, Currie. Sin Bin: Young (16). Sent Off: Sykes (44).

Zebre: Laloifi, Trulla, Cronje, Lucchin, Gesi, Rizzi, Fusco, Fischetti, Bigi, Neculai, G. Venditti, Zambonin, Mitchell, Mbanda, Fox-Matamua, Andreani.

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Replacements: O'Malley for Rizzi (64), Cook for Fusco (56), Buonfiglio for Fischetti (45), Bello for Neculai (49), Sisi for G. Venditti (49), Ribaldi for Mitchell (66), Andreani for Mbanda (51), Pani for Andreani (64).