Edinburgh denied at death as Blair’s side step up preparations

Edinburgh's Chris Dean
Edinburgh's Chris Dean

A FINAL-minute penalty try deprived Edinburgh of a morale-boosting win on the road last night in their final hit-out before next Saturday’s United Rugby Championship campaign opener at home to the Dragons.

It was a disjointed performance, not helped by the eccentric refereeing of Andrea Piardi, and leaves the capital men without a win from two pre-season matches, having also come up short against English second tier outfit London Scottish last weekend.

Edinburgh had a couple of promising moments early on which came to nought – through a Matt Currie interception and a Ben Muncaster break down the left – before that early pressure eventually paid dividends when the visiting driving maul squeezed a succession of penalties from the hosts, which were all kicked to the corner. Eventually, Ben Vellacott broke from the back of line-out maul back towards the short side and fed Chris Dean, who did well to brush off Edoardo Padovan’s tackle on his way to squeezing over in the corner.

Jaco van der Walt missed with his conversion attempt and Benetton squared the contest within two minutes of the restart, with a penalty kicked to the corner providing the platform, and hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi bursting from the base of the line-out maul to score a try.

There was a troubling moment for Edinburgh on 23 minutes when their scrum was blown away by the powerful Italians, suggesting that their third-choice props may struggle to hold their own when they are inevitably called upon this season.

They did, however, recover from this to swing the pressure back onto Benetton, who were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes when second-row Federico Ruzza was sent to the cooler for collapsing a line-out maul.

It didn’t take long for the Scottish side to capitalise on this numerical advantage with Muncaster spinning out of a tackle and stretching over the line to reclaim the lead for his team, and this time Jaco van der Walt was successful with the conversion.

But Edinburgh then saw that lead reduced to just two points when Lucchesi struck again, once again off the back of a powerful close-range line-out maul.

With plenty of firepower to come off the bench, Edinburgh were well placed to achieve a confidence-boosting away win ahead of hostilities starting in earnest next weekend, but some woeful discipline – punished by some rather officious refereeing – at the start of the second half left them battling away for the best part of 10 minutes with just 13 players.

First, captain Jamie Ritchie was sent to the naughty step for flying across the central channel as he tried to disrupt Benetton line-out ball four minutes after the resumption.

Then, three minutes later, debutant Sam Skinner joined Ritchie in exile for some underhand shenanigans at a ruck near Edinburgh’s line, which may well have been a case of mistaken identity with Glen Young the real culprit.

Benetton took advantage, crossing twice before Edinburgh had been restored to full strength, with winger Edoardo Padovani and replacement Onisi Ratave taking advantage of the gaps which inevitably opened up in the visiting backline through centre Dean being forced to operate as a makeshift flanker.

Once back to full strength, Edinburgh dug deep and managed to force their way back into the lead. With home replacement prop Tiziano Pasquali in the sin-bin for killing the ball, Jack Blain managed to find his way over in the corner and Charlie Savala fired home the touchline conversion, and then Nick Haining – on his first outing since injuring his shoulder in February – muscled over from close range.

But the away team then failed to control possession and territory during the final six minutes and suffered a late knock-out punch when Bill Mata conceded that penalty try for collapsing a maul just short of his own line in the 80thminute. To add insult to injury, the big Fijian was also yellow-carded for his misdemeanour.