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PARMA LAMMED

Zebre: 34 (3) Edinburgh: 16 (13)



I wouldn't like to have been a fly on the wall in the Edinburgh dressing room after this latest catastrophe in Italy.  It's taken nearly a day for my own blood pressure to return to near normal levels; 'Jarvis' Cockers will still be in total frenzy mode.

In the proverbial game of two halves, the Gunners utterly dominated the first period and the half time score of 13-3 in their favour flattered Zebre.  After the break, though, the Italians scored early and visibly grew in confidence and ambition such that, at no-side, they were well worth their bonus point win.

At times, the Embra performance was reminiscent of their play under, well, Michael Bradley, Zebre's head coach. There was great deliberation about their tactics throughout, looking to take the home side on up front, using the box kick as their primary attacking weapon.  But it was telegraphed, predictable and formulaic.  The Italian blitz defence was outstanding all night and the Gunners just could not get any traction.

On the one hand, putting in lengthy sets of phases is an indication of calm confidence.  On the other, it can instead be a sign that you are bereft of ideas. Either way, a limited gameplan only works if you execute perfectly.  Rather than kick on from the perfect combination of piano lifters and piano shifters that the Embramen were against RC Toulonnais only last weekend, Edinburgh went about four or five years backwards last night.

It would be unfair to pin responsibility for the loss on one error made by one individual.  Singling people out for blame, particularly when they are young and inexperienced, is never a productive approach. In any case, the crucial errors and misjudgements that gifted five points to Zebre were symptomatic of a wider malaise.  Missing a straightforward penalty and errors that coughed up Zebre's first three tries were team failures. 

Everyone must own them.

Anyone who took to the field in Parma who thinks they got even 6/10 on the legendary Scottish Rugby Blog rating chart needs to give themselves a good shake. And don't get me started on this being an understrength squad due to the Autumn Internationals,with a number of youngsters making (near) debuts.  That was a squad plenty strong enough to come away with a comfortable win and, at half time, they were in the position to do exactly that.  

We have all said it before, and we will all say it again, but it is matches like these that are the litmus test for any side.  Anyone can get fired up for a big game.  It is maintaining focus in the bread and butter matches, like this, that is the difference between champions and also-rans.

The Gunners were totally dominant in the first period.  Hickey's early penalty put their noses in front and a beautifully worked try gave the Embramen a comfortable 10 point advantage.  Sleight of both hand and foot in traffic from the perennially underrated Chris Dean put 'Mr Darcy' Graham over for his second try of the season. That was a rare glimpse of the greatest thing out of Hawick since Stuart Hogg.  It was better than Duhan van der Merwe.  I can't remember seeing him with ball in hand all night and, indeed, am beginning to wonder whether he was playing at all.  The Gunners fielded plenty of firepower; they just didn't give it the ball.

Hickey stretched the advantage to 13 with a seoncd penalty with the break approaching and the question was more about whether the Embramen had made their advantage count as much as they should have done.  Had they extinguished all hope for the home side?

Canna gave Zebre a sniff with a successful three pointer, shortly after Edinburgh had missed a simple penalty opportunity, and the Gunners were by no means out of sight.  Then came the second half horror show.

A missed tackle saw a startled David Sisi canter over on 42 minutes on Zebre's first real attack of the match.  After Canna and Hickey exchanged penalties, the Edinburgh advantage remained a slim 13-16 on 51 minutes.

Then the Emilia-Romagna men took the lead for the first time in the match.  Canna, who often strikes one as the Italian Finn Russell, launched what could be described as, at best, an insanely speculative bomb to the right wing.  For some reason, the Edinburgh fullback had even the most mild mannered of mini rugby coaches worldwide spitting with rage as he allowed the ball to bounce.  Inevitably, it sat up perfectly for the chasing Di Giulio, who crossed for try number two and Zebre were 20-16 ahead with almost an hour on the clock.  There was plenty of time to overturn the deficit, but things were starting to look ominous for the visitors.

As the Gunners huffed and puffed ineffectually, the mercurial Canna intercepted a desperate pass and crossed from distance to kill the game at 27-16 on 73 minutes.  Now the Gunners were chasing a losing bonus point.  Sadly, there was a certain inevitability about the bonus point try, deep into injury time, when Castello crossed, after a neat dummy.  But after a performance like that, it was the Embramen and their fans who were spitting the dummy.

I think I need a lie down.