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Edinburgh Rugby: 37 (20) Zebre: 0 (0)

I work in a business, the Scotch Whisky industry, where people take a long term perspective.  As you read this, spirit is going into barrels in the full knowledge that it will stay there for many years.  People are distilling today liquid that they do not plan to bottle until well into the 2030s.  Quite a thought.

But it takes time to create something good.  There are no short cuts, no quick fixes.  You need a strategy and you need to execute that strategy consistently, accepting that there will be times when things are tough and it will be tempting to panic.  But success depends on commitment, patience and the strength of character to persevere.

In rugby, the consistently good sides took time to get there, to build that winning culture.  Glasgow are now reaping the rewards of many years of work.  Edinburgh are some way behind them on that journey.  But this season has seen real progress in the Murrayfield area.  And that development seems to have picked up in pace since the turn of the year. The pack - the recent Munster reverse apart - are dominating the opposition.  It is a power game.  Power in the maul, in the loose and, above all, power in the scrummage.  I cannot recall seeing a professional scrummage being as dominated as the Dragons' was last weekend.  The pressure that the Edinburgh pack are putting on the opposition is suffocating.  Sooner or later, the enemy fractures.

We saw that again in the national stadium last night.  Visiting Zebre, a bright start apart, were under the cosh throughout.  That pressure told in two early tries, a succession of scrummage penalties, three yellow cards and a five try bonus point win that keeps the Gunners in the hunt for a sixth place finish and Champions Cup rugby next term.  They had achieved the bonus before the hour and eased down to coast over the line in the final quarter.  Five points secured and everyone healthy.  Mission accomplished.

With their win over Newport this evening, and Connacht's home loss to Glasgow, Scarlets still look to have the advantage, one point ahead of the capital side.  But Edinburgh now sit only five points adrift of fifth placed Leinster, whose season is now over, and who they play at home last up.  If they can win both of their final league matches, Edinburgh have a fighting chance of edging a qualification spot - maybe by a route that one would never have predicted.

I was delighted to see Anton Bresler pick up the Man of the Match award this evening.  Not bad for an hour's work.  After a relatively slow start to his Edinburgh career, primarily due to a lack of rest after the South African season, one feels, he has really hit his straps now.  He's not a flamboyant, Richie Gray-style lighthouse.  At one point, he found himself with ball in hand and embarked upon a mazy run through traffic that made great ground.  But he seemed surprised at his achievement as he is a man who is really most at home doing the unglamorous but important tasks of the tight five forward.  When he clears you out of a ruck, you stay cleared.  He is a grafter, a hard man whose uncompromising play is at the heart of an intimidating forward pack that is attracting admiration and fear in equal measure at the moment.

Zebre started very brightly, moving the ball with adventure and forcing an early penalty.  It was a long one, mind, and it was always expecting a lot of flame haired centre Gonzalo Garcia to open the scoring.  Instead, it was another flame haired bearded gentleman, Roddy Grant, who got the first points of the match on the board.   The try came off a massive driving maul, which sailed serenely over the Italian line on eight minutes to give the openside a classic Neil Back-style touchdown. It was to be a pattern that was to be repeated often, the visitors always struggling to contain the Embra maul.

SHC extended the advantage to ten on 20 minutes with a penalty for a scrummage infringement. Referee Hodges delivered the first of a few warnings for scrummage infringements to the Zebre skipper as the Gunners applied the pressure. 

On 25 minutes Fife added to the lead.  Off stolen lineout ball shifted along the line, well timed passes by replacement du Preez, Strauss and Beard put Deadly over in the corner.  SHC's excellent wide conversion saw the Gunners 17-0 up on 27 minutes.  Then the first scrummage yellow, for Chistolini, came as the visiting pack collapsed again.  Toolis was taken out in the air at the succeeding lineout and SHC kicked the points.  One felt that knocking the ball to the corner instead would have opened up an opportunity for another maul try.  But it looked like Edinburgh were concentrating first on killing the game, confident that the bonus would come in time.

Visser and Brown combined well on 32 minutes and only a handling error denied them a score after making great ground.  Another warning to the Zebre skipper came shortly afterwards following the latest scrum penalty. Then the visitors lost a second man to the bin when Zebre's right winger, Toniolatti, pulled Visser down in the air chasing a high ball.  The way the kick gather is being refereed this season, it was a clear yellow.  That said, one feels that the balance is not quite right and this is an area of the game that needs to be looked at again.

Despite being up against 13 men, the Gunners did not trouble the scorer before the break. 20-0 up and Edinburgh were well set to kick on for the bonus in the second period.  They had already secured the win, as the Italian side had switched to damage limitation mode as the home maul rumbled on.

Sure enough, the bonus was secured in the third quarter. The Gunners did not take advantage of the power play, but were starting to recover their rhythm when Zebre returned to their full complement.  That didn't last long, though, as loosehead Aguero was carded infringing under huge pressure from WP 'WP' Nel.  Off an attacking lineout, Zebre fell for the sucker punch.  Set up to defend the maul on their line, Ford took them completely by surpise with a short throw to Dickinson.  The loosehead gave quickly to McInally, whose offload found the Lions' hooker charging up the line to score in the corner.  25-0 on 53 minutes and plenty of time to secure the fourth try.

It came on 54 minutes, Edinburgh mauled over from a lineout on the Italian 22 as if the defence wasn't there, Roddy notching his brace and SHC's conversion pushing the lead out to 32-0.  That was the cue for Coach Solomons to start taking key guys out of the fray and give his bench some gametime.

Understandably, Edinburgh lost some momentum as a result, but they rounded off the evening with a fifth try.  This time, it was Rambo who crossed off another maul on the stroke of no-side.  A comfortable and well executed 37-0 win.

So, a good workout prior to the Challenge Cup final at the Stoop next Friday.  Gloucester will be a much bigger challenge, mind, and it is shaping up to be an excellent match