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Edinburgh 24 Benetton 10 – Mike Blair’s side keep up chase at top of URC

EDINBURGH kept up the chase at the top of the URC last night with a hard-fought victory over dogged opponents which keeps them just a point behind Leinster. The bonus-point result may have been less aesthetically pleasing than the similar win over the Dragons six days earlier, but the quality of the opposition had a lot to do with that.

The result was not really secure until substitute Stuart McInally got the fourth try a dozen minutes from time, and head coach Mike Blair was dissatisfied with the amount of entertainment his team had provided for the crowd. Having said that, he was pleased that his team have developed the happy habit of winning when not at their best.

“We got a win, but there’s a  lot of things we can improve on and do better.,” Blair said. “But it’s a hell of a lot easier learning when you’re winning. 

“It’s a bonus point win over a good Benetton side, so we have to be happy with that, but I don’t think we entertained the crowd tonight. They won’t be going home saying they loved that performance. That sort of thing matters to me.

“I just thought it was a little bit flat tonight. You want everything – never satisfied but we’ll take it though.”

Edinburgh had to make a late change, promoting Lee-Roy Atalifo to the starting line-up after WP Nel pulled up in the warm-up. The visitors had a lot of early pressure and took the lead through a Leonardo Marin penalty, but were soon a man down after a deliberate knock-on by captain Dewaldt Duvenage ended a promising Edinburgh attack. The penalty went to touch, the clean lineout moved infield, and when the ball came back to the narrow side Darcy Graham had plenty of space in which to touch down. 

Blair Kinghorn’s conversion attempt went wide, but the stand-off soon made amends by launching an adventurous counter-attack. Graham took it on into the opposition 22, and although the 14 men stopped the winger, they could do nothing to keep out Boffelli when the attack spread from far right to far left. The conversion was again off target.

Benetton should have reduced the 10-3 deficit just before the half-hour when Tommaso Menoncello broke through the midfield, but Boffelli got to him in time then Graham smothered Michele Lamaro right on the line. They came close a second time five minutes later, but were penalised five metres out for an offence on the ground.

Both incidents were a reminder that, while Edinburgh deserved to be in front, their lead was a precarious one. And, having already had to bring Jamie Ritchie on for Bill Mata, they required further reorganisation just before the break when Damien Hoyland hobbled off. Stand-off Charlie Savala came on for Hoyland, and Kinghorn moved to the wing. 

However, it was the Italians who looked disjointed when play resumed, and after they made a complete guddle of an attempt to run the ball from their own line, Kinghorn seized on a loose pass for try No 8. This time he did add the two points, and the lead looked a lot more secure at 17-3.

But Benetton were far from finished, and pulled a score back right on the hour mark when substitute Manuel Zuliani finished off from close range and Marin added the two points. Edinburgh needed to reassert themselves, and with Henry Pyrgos on to steady the ship they did exactly that. 

The replacement scrum-half made 50 metres with a blindside break and chip, forcing Benetton to clear to touch inside their own 22. McInally threw in and finished off the move, propelled over the line by the rest of his pack.  Kinghorn had to go off for an HIA straight after converting, but the game was in the bag along with the bonus point, and Benetton were barely able to break out of their own half in the time that remained.

Edinburgh: Tries: Graham, Boffelli, Kinghorn, McInally. Cons: Kinghorn 2.

Benetton: Try: Zuliani. Con: Marin. Pen: Marin.

Edinburgh: E Boffelli; D Graham, M Currie, J Lang (M Bennett 71), D Hoyland (C Savala 39); B Kinghorn, B Vellacott (H Pyrgos 63); B Venter (P Schoeman 50), D Cherry (S McInally 50), L Atalifo (A Williams 62), J Hodgson (M Sykes 66) G Gilchrist (captain), M Bradbury, H Watson, V Mata (J Ritchie 30). 

Benetton: R Smith; R Tavuyara (E Padovani 25), I Brex, T Menoncello, M Ioane; L Marin (J Riera 71) D Duvenage (captain) (A Garbisi 71); F Zani (T Gallo 27), H Faiva (G Lucchesi 47), T Pasquali (I Nemer 47), N Cannone (C Wegner 34), F Ruzza, G Pettinelli (M Zuliani 47), M Lamaro, T Halafihi. 

Yellow card: Benetton: Duvenage 13.

Referee: A Jones (Wales).

Attendance: 5,438.

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