IT was a case of frustration but not desolation for Edinburgh in Treviso last night after a last minute penalty try by the hosts condemned Mike Blair’s side to a second defeat from their two pre-season matches. Some winning momentum would have been handy going into next Saturday’s URC season opener against the Dragons at the DAM Health Stadium, but, on the flip side, they managed to give several key men some valuable game time after lengthy spells in the treatment room, as well as some academy players who traditionally don’t get much exposure during the regular season.
There didn’t seem to be any significant new injury concerns, and Edinburgh should be more battle-hardened next week than the Dragons who had their final pre-season hit-out against the Scarlets tonight [Friday] cancelled. But they are, clearly, still a long way from being in the sort of touch required if they are to improve on last season’s seventh place finish in the league.
In fairness, flow of the game was not helped by the eccentric refereeing of Andrea Piardi, who issued five cards over the piece and didn’t seem to have any real empathy for the fact that this was a pre-season loosener rather than his own ego trip.
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Edinburgh had a couple of promising moments early on which came to nought – a Matt Currie interception was snuffed out by Benetton’s scramble defence, and Ben Vellacott couldn’t collect Ben Muncaster’s offload back in field after his break down the left – before that pressure eventually paid dividends when the visiting driving maul squeezed a succession of penalties from the hosts, which were all kicked to the corner.
Ben Vellacott broke from the back of the maul, heading towards the short-side touchline, before feeding the ever-alert 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 the conversion and Benetton levelled the contest within two minutes of the restart by kicking a penalty to the corner to create the platform from which hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi burst off the base of the line-out maul to score the try, which also went unconverted.
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 on the stroke of half-time, powering over once again off the back of a powerful close-range line-out maul.
With plenty of firepower to come off the bench, Edinburgh were in good shape for a confidence-boosting away win ahead of hostilities starting in earnest next weekend, but some woeful discipline – punished by 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 coolercfor 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 on the naughty step 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. Winger Edoardo Padovani and replacement Onisi Ratave both took 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.
When home replacement prop Tiziano Pasquali was sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball on his own line, Edinburgh (with boosted front-row) opted for the scrum and went right with a pick-and-pass from a Viliame Mata – back after seven months out with a knee injury – making Henry Immelman the link-man to send Jack Blain over in the corner. The winger, who spent the summer playing in Australia, still had work to do, but rode the last gasp Benetton tackle well. Replacement stand-off Charlie Savala nailed the touchline conversion.
That score prompted the arrival of the academy kids. Hooker Patrick Harrison, midfielder Cammy Scott, winger Jacob Henry (a try-scorer against London Scottish last week) and full-back Harry Paterson all arrived on the scene, and wasted no time in helping put their team back on the front foot.
After several minutes camped in Benetton territory, Nick Haining – on his first outing since injuring his shoulder in February – muscled over from close range to put the visitorsback in the lead, with an easily taken conversion for Savala stretching the advantage to fur points.
But Haining’s rustiness showed from the restart when he fumbled in contact to hand possession back to Benetton with just over four minutes to play, and the same man then gave away a penalty on his own 22 for contesting the ball on the deck.
A kick to the corner and then Mata conceded a penalty try for a hard to discern offence at the subsequent line-out maul – perhaps for sliding round he side? – handing Benetton the win. To add insult to injury, the big Fijian was also yellow-carded for his misdemeanour. Referee Piardi making sure he stayed at the centre of the drama.
Benetton: R Smith; E Padovani, I Brex, M Zanon, R Tavuyara; L Marin, D Duvenage; I Nemer, G Lucchesi, S Ferrrari, N Cannone, F Ruzza, G Pattinelli, M Zuiliani, L Cannone. Replacements: C Traore, G Nicotera, T Pasquali, M Lazzaroni, S Scrafton, A Izekor, B Steyn, M Lamaro, A Garbisi, G Da Re, M Bellini, F Drago, J Riera, O Ratave, I Mendy.
Edinburgh: H Immelman; J Blain, M Currie (C Scott 66), C Dean (C Hutchison 51), D Hoyland (J Henry 66); J van der Walt (C Savala 40), B Vellacott (H Pyrgos 51); N Auterac (B Venter 40), D Cherry (A McBurney 31, P Harrison 66), A Williams (L Atalifo 40), M Sykes (S Skinner 40), G Young (J Hodgson 52), J Ritchie, (N Haining 52), L Crosbie (C Boyle 40), B Muncaster (V Mata 52).
Benetton: Tries: Lucchesi 2, Padovani, Ratave, Penalty Try; Con: Da Re
Edinburgh: Tries: Dean, Muncaster, Blain, Haining; Con: Van der Walt, Savala 2
Scoring sequence (Benetton first): 0-5; 5-5; 5-10; 5-12; 10-12 (h-t); 15-12; 17-12; 22-12; 22-17; 22-19; 22-24; 22-26; 29-26.
Yellow cards –
Benetton: Ruzza (27mins), Pasquali (62mins)
Edinburgh: Ritchie (44mins), Skinner (47mins), Mata (80mins)
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