Edinburgh just do enough as Cockerill slams standard of referees

Stuart McInally races away to score the vital try from fully 45 metres. Pic: Bill Murray/SNS
Stuart McInally races away to score the vital try from fully 45 metres. Pic: Bill Murray/SNS
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However, it was another lacklustre effort by the hosts, whose flying start to the campaign is now a distant memory.

Edinburgh, who failed to convert pressure into points during their spells on top, were well served by Jamie Ritchie, Grant Gilchrist and Stuart McInally up front, while sevens specialists James Johnstone and Dougie Fife showed their worth behind the scrum. However, despite the result, the hosts lacked cohesion and imagination, and there were few signs for optimism.

For coach Richard Cockerill, the absence of a cutting edge must remain a source of concern as the Capital men embark on their European Challenge Cup campaign with a trip to face London Irish next Saturday.

He said: “We seemed to be very jittery and inaccurate. We had that against Treviso and we had it again tonight. It is disappointing.”

However, while he was dissatisfied with the Edinburgh showing, he was scathing about the effort of referee Marius Mitrea.

“It’s hard to play any type of rugby when the game, in my opinion, is poorly officiated,” he fumed. “We have had some really, really bad calls in the last four weeks. If the competition wants to have any credibility, they have got to sort out the officiating.”

In contrast to the downbeat tone in the home ranks, the visitors went into the match brimming with confidence after two impressive results and seeking three consecutive wins for the first time in their history. There was the added incentive for coach Michael Bradley of inflicting defeat on the club that sacked him four years ago.

And the confidence coursing through the Italian ranks was evident in the opening exchanges as they displayed greater creativity, turning the home defence twice then defending determinedly as Edinburgh enjoyed a spell in the ascendancy.

On two occasions, the hosts spurned penalty kicks at goal but with eight minutes on the clock, a third award inside the Zebre 22 tempted Jason Tovey to go for the posts, and the Welshman hit the target to open the scoring.

The Italians were instantly on the attack but Carlo Canna squandered a gilt-edged opportunity to square matters when he tugged a straightforward penalty left of the target.

Edinburgh had the bulk of the possession but did not pose any threat to the Zebre line. And it was the visitors who showed how it was done when, with 21 minutes played, Tommaso Boni made a break and delivered a tidy pass out of contact that released Johan Meyer who swatted off tackles by Blair Kinghorn and Tom Brown before going over for a try.

Brown soon atoned for that error with a scintillating break that carved open the Zebre defence. When the winger was eventually collared, McInally was on hand to continue the move and he raced in from 45 metres, just evading a desperate last-ditch tackle to dot down for a superb score and leave Duncan Weir a routine conversion that put the home side 10-5 ahead at half-time.

Edinburgh had the territorial advantage in the opening ten minutes after the restart, but were unable to find a way through the well organised Zebre defence. Indeed, it was the visitors who created the first real scoring opportunity and it took a timely tackle by Brown on Giovanbattista Venditti to maintain the five-point cushion.

Fife roused the crowd with a searing break that was carried on by Brown and Johnstone. That attack stretched the Italians but Edinburgh had to resort to Weir’s boot to add three more points.

Just as the match appeared to be turning in Edinburgh’s favour, the visitors struck a blow when Marcello Violi pounced to charge down an attempted clearance and won the race to touch down. The scrum-half added the conversion then gave his side the lead with 14 minutes to play when he banged over a penalty.

The arrival of Allan Dell as replacement after 58 minutes brought additional ballast to the Edinburgh scrum and it was a penalty from that source which enabled Weir to nudge the home side back into the lead by the slenderest of margins.

Again the hosts failed to follow through on that score and the Italians finished the stronger of the two sides. There was a sense of foreboding as the game entered the final minute and Zebre booted a penalty into touch on the edge of the home 22. However, a squint throw in brought relief to the home support and delivered the win that prevented a humiliating double of home losses against the two Italian sides within a matter of weeks.

Edinburgh: Tries: McInally. Cons: Weir. Pens: Tovey, Weir 2.

Zebre: Tries: Meyer, Violi. Cons: Violi. Pens: Violi.

Edinburgh Rugby: B Kinghorn (D Weir 23); D Fife, J Johnstone (P Burleigh 72), P Burleigh (R Fruean 53), T Brown; J Tovey (S Hidalgo-Clyne 64), N Fowles; D Marfo (A Dell 58), S McInally, WP Nel (S Berghan 47), B Toolis (A Bresler 58), G Gilchrist, M Bradbury (capt), J Ritchie, C du Preez (L Crosbie 63)

Zebre: M Minozzi; M Bellini (C Gaffney 40), T Boni, T Castello (capt), G Venditti; C Canna, M Violi; A Lovotti (De Marchi 61), O Fabiani (L Luus 61), D Chistolin (R Tenga 47), D Sisi, G Biagi (L Krow 52), G Licata, J Meyer, R Giammarioli

Referee: M Mitrea (Italy)