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ALL ABOARD THE MAGIC ROUNDABOUT

Zebre: 19 (7) Edinburgh Rugby: 24 (13)



The matchtag for the so-called 'Big Weekend' clash in Parma today was #ZEBvEDI.  It put me in mind of cult 70s TV series 'The Magic Roundabout', featuring Ermintrude, Brian the Snail, Florence and, of course, Zebedee.  It's an appropriate metaphor for the Italian/Scottish fixtures in the Guinness PRO12. Anyone who thinks that these can be marketed as being somehow equivalent to the Irish, Welsh or, indeed, Scottish derbies is living in a dream world. 

Full marks for ambition, mind.

Gregor Townsend is not the only observer to lament the end - for this season only, one hopes - of the festive double header.  The celtic competition has genuinely improved with the change in Champions Cup qualification, which has reduced the number of meaningless matches considerably. There are now very few clubs who do not have something to play for in the last couple of outings.  This term, the Embramen may yet have a shot at a top six place in the home straight.  So it seems odd to move a high profile match to coincide with the climax to the competition, particularly when in its place is one of the lowest profile fixtures of the season.

Nontheless, both of today's Italian hosts gave a good account of themselves against Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively.  Kieron Crowley is nudging Benetton Treviso towards a more expansive gameplan and they could quite easily have taken the Warriors' scalp in a bit of a tryfest.  Meanwhile, Zebre outscored the Gunners three tries to two and there was some impressive sleight of hand in the lead up to those scores.Ultimately, though, Edinburgh ran out winners thanks to tries from Chris Dean and Will Helu and 14 points from Duncan Weir TGB.

The victory lifted Edinburgh to the dizzy heights of ninth in the competition, albeit the Newportgwentdragons have a game in hand.  Anything can happen in the second half of the season, but it looks likely that the Gunners will be fighting it out with Cardiff and Connacht for the also ran slot in seventh.

After Weir had put the visitors up with his first penalty on 14 minutes, following a spell of early pressure, threequarter Tommaso Boni crossed on 25 minutes, handy playmaker Carlo Canna converting well from wide out.

Weir narrowed the gap to one with his second penalty on the half hour.  And after the Gunners absorbed some Italian pressure, Dean collected enemy ball won at a breakdown on half way and scooted off down the left wing for a try on 39 minutes.  Weir's conversion opened up a useful lead for the visitors, albeit the home team had looked that bit more creative in attack.

After some early sparring in the second period, it was the Embramen who were first on the board.  They moved the ball wide left before newly re-signed superstar-designate and today's Man of the Match, The King Blairhorn, cleverly knocked a grubber behind the onrushing defence.  Helu was first to the ball in the in goal area and Edinburgh were 18-7 up with over a quarter to go.  One felt that Zebre might begin to lose heart, opening the opportunity for a rare try bonus for the Gunners.  Not a bit of it.

Canna crossed for his side's second try on the hour, narrowing the gap to 18-12.  But Weir kept the scoreboard ticking over with two penalties, one on 65 minutes, one on 74, making the game safe with time running out. There was still time for the Italians to claw back a deserved losing bonus, through a late consolation try for Dries Van Schalkwyk after Fowles had been binned for an infringement with Zebre pressing.  That was the last act of the match, though, and Edinburgh ran out 24-19 victors.

Although, with all due respect and all that, this was Edinburgh's most winnable away fixture of the season, it still had to be won.  The short turnaround after round one of the 1872 and the long journey all made life more difficult.  But they got there and rounded off a tough 2016 with an away victory.  

They now have a couple of weeks off before travelling to London for a must-win encounter with Harlequins on 14 January.  The winner of that match will almost certainly progress to the Challenge Cup knock-out stages. That would be a great way to start the New Year.