Benetton Rugby v Edinburgh
Edinburgh notched their fourth win on the bounce in all competitions as two late tries from Dougie Fife secured a hard-fought victory over a resilient Benetton Rugby side.
In a turgid first-half, where neither side truly dominated possession nor territory, it was Edinburgh who struck first thanks to a neatly crafted back-line move, finished off by the opportunistic Sam Hidalgo-Clyne. Richard Cockerill’s side would have further chances to extend their lead as both Phil Burleigh and Jason Tovey went agonisingly close, however, it was the Italians who eventually dragged themselves back into the clash, despite having a man disadvantage following Francesco Minto’s yellow card. Two penalties from the boot of Ian McKinley would leave the score an evenly balanced 6-7 at the break.
Benetton shot out the blocks to begin the second-half and for large periods the Italian side had Edinburgh on the rocks as they displayed an increased intensity and desire in attack. With 55 minutes on the clock, Benetton were rewarded for their positive offensive play as Angelo Espositio galloped over the whitewash for the go-ahead score. Edinburgh would answer almost immediately, however, as Dougie Fife dived over in the corner following an explosive break by Blair Kinghorn. A penalty from the impressive Tovey would further bolster Edinburgh’s lead and when Dougie Fife once again finished in the corner, the match was all but over.
Edinburgh head coach, Richard Cockerill, was delighted with the manner in which Edinburgh secured their fourth Guinness PRO14 victory of the season and said: “We are improving, we are learning our lessons. It was important for us that we proved we can win away from home against a side that we lost to at home. We are getting there with the confidence in the team. Even when we were under pressure we kept to our game plan ball-in-hand and we were a threat the whole game.”
It shows that we have an environment that is working, we have good coaches and good people, good players. We have to keep getting that belief. Days like this when you get that result are important. The players are starting to understand what it takes to win.
Edinburgh came into the fixture off the back of back-to-back European Challenge Cup victories which saw the team notch a combined 110 points. The team’s scoring exploits didn’t seem to be slowing down as they broke the deadlock with only three minutes on the clock. With Edinburgh in possession and inching towards the Benetton try line, the ball was played out wide to Kinghorn, who first half-broke a tackle before offloading to the trailing James Johnstone. With only a defender to beat, the Scotland Sevens star neatly popped the ball inside to the awaiting Hidalgo-Clyne, who had the simple task of touching down under the sticks (0-7).
The host’s cause was made harder when starting hooker Luca Bigi was forced off injured and their frustration showed as a clumsy knock-on boiled over into a small fracas involving Hidalgo-Clyne and his opposite number, Tito Tebaldi. Edinburgh were struggling to turn their significant pressure into points, however. Phil Burleigh had his scoring effort chalked off as the referee judged that the New Zealand-born centre had knocked on over the line. Tovey, on the other hand, would misjudge his penalty attempt, meaning Edinburgh’s vulnerable seven point-lead remained.
When the host’s Francesco Minto was sent to the bin, after the back-row stopped Hidalgo-Clyne from taking a quick-tap penalty, Edinburgh were gifted a chance to further stomp their authority on the match. However, it had the reserve effect. Benetton were galvanised and when Ian McKinely was not once, but twice presented with the chance to take aim at the uprights, the stand-off made no mistake (6-7). At the half, Edinburgh held a slender, but worthy, one point advantage.
If the first-half was akin to a tactical and calculated boxing match, in which each opponent patiently waited for their moment to jab, the second-half opened like a flurry of uppercuts. Benetton returned to the fray swinging; a strategy which seemed to work as their relentless style of attacking play eventually resulted in their first try of the afternoon. Angelo Esposito – twice a scorer at the corresponding fixture at Myreside in September – was the man who finished off the Italian’s accurate handling maneuverer, as he scuttled over in the corner. With McKinley stoking over the resulting conversion, the hosts had flipped the script (13-7).
Edinburgh appear to be made of tougher stuff this season, however, and with 20 minutes left on the clock, they showcased their resilience. With an attacking scrum only five metres out from the Benetton try-line, Nathan Fowles broke down the blind-side before swiftly passing to Blair Kinghorn, who immediately had the better of his opposite man. With Fife left on the outside, the full-back – who was making his 50th appearance in the black and red – intelligently drew in his man before offloading in the tackle to the winger, who swiftly plunged into the corner. As Tovey nailed the tricky conversion, Edinburgh, for the second time, took the lead (13-14).
Jason Tovey would once again display the ice coursing through his veins as he slotted over a further penalty in the closing stages (13-17), but, perhaps, the best try was saved for last as Fife again was in the right place at the right time – an invaluable skill for a winger. With Edinburgh closing out the match, the ball was recycled wide and when Chris Dean offloaded excellently to Burleigh, who subsequently hit Kinghorn in his stride, there was just a single Benetton defender to beat. The full-back unselfishly drew his man, before offloading to Fife who touched down to secure an all-important away victory for Edinburgh (13-24).