Edinburgh captain McKenzie reveals how he lead fightback in Italy

Fraser McKenzie in training
Fraser McKenzie in training
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IT was the crisis meeting that might, just might, turn Edinburgh’s season around. They have been through the wringer with off-field scandals and, then on the pitch, they had just seen all their early good work thrown away as their Italian opponents reeled them in and overtook them.

It was make-or-break time in the 55th minute as they gathered behind the posts while Ian McKinley, the Benetton Treviso stand-off, prepared to convert Angelo Esposito’s try. “I was thinking to myself ‘we have been in this situation before many times, this is where we build character, this is where we change as a club’,” recalled new captain Fraser McKenzie who subsequently lead his team to a 13-24 victory.

“Initially, we just said ‘focus on the next job’ and the next job was the kick-off. We had to get them in their 22 and had to focus on high line speed. We did exactly what we said and we got an early score back.

“That really settled us and I feel that our mindset had become that we were looking forward – looking forward to the next try and then the bonus point try, which I feel a bit unlucky not to get – that was an opportunity missed.

“That is certainly a different mindset in the way we are thinking. Instead of trying to just see the game out we were looking to progress further.”

As McKenzie pointed out, only time will tell whether it is a real turning point for the club but it did underline the character within the playing group.

“The last four weeks have been tough for us, not just the off-field stuff but on-field as well. We have had a lot of travelling and opponents that we really don’t know too much about; physical opponents,” he said. “We have come out of it very well. Our mindset has always been to win this block of five games, including the Ospreys next week. We have been breaking it down into small groups of games. We have still not achieved our goal but this was the next tick in the box towards that.

“We just need that belief, that character. I think we can go well as a team, there will be ups and downs along the way but the majority of the time we wanted to be coming out with a good win like this one.

“We need to be coming to places like this and winning regularly. If you look at the league table, if we had lost in Treviso it would have put us in a very difficult situation. This was a tick in the box that we needed.”

For those who were there at the reverse fixture, won by Treviso at Myreside, it looked as though the pattern was going to be similar. Edinburgh started fast, with Sam Hidalgo-Clyne going over, but struggled to convert their superiority into a match-winning lead.

The Italians started to hit back with penalties, this time kicked by McKinley, and in both games took the lead with Angelo Esposito touching down after the Edinburgh defence bash been sucked in by a series of picks-and-drives.

That was time for the crisis meeting and the first real test of Fraser McKenzie as the new club captain.

They pressured Treviso into a knock-on from the kick-off, went down the blindside where Blair Kinghorn, who had also played a key role in the opening try, did the damage and Dougie Fife finished. “It was a good try but, to be fair, Blair did all the work for me – that is nice to have as a winger, just getting on the end of things,” said Fife, who is still on a Sevens contact but has been called into this week’s Scotland training squad.

“I feel like I am really starting to enjoy my 15s again. The Scotland call – I was certainly not expecting it. When I got the call from Gregor it was a bit of a shock. It is good being back in the mix I am really looking forward to the camp.”

Nor was he finished, Kinghorn again the danger man and Fife the finisher as Edinburgh cemented fourth spot in the conference with Kinghorn’s last-second try-saving tackle preventing the Italians winning a losing bonus point.

Scorers:

Benetton Treviso: Try: Esposito. Con: McKinley. Pens: McKinley (2)

Edinburgh: Tries: Hidalgo-Clyne, Fife (2). Cons: Tovey (3). Pen: Tovey

Benetton Treviso: J Hayward; A Esposito, I Brex, A Sgarbi, L Sperandio; I McKinley, T Tebaldi; F Zani, L Bigi, S Ferrari, M Fuser, D Budd (C), F Minto, A Steyn, R Barbrieri

Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Fife, J Johnstone, P Burleigh, J Harries; J Tovey, S Hidalgo-Clyne; D Marfo, S McInally, WP Nel, F McKenzie (C), B Toolis, L Crosbie, H Watson, C du Preez

Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales)