URC: Benetton continue fine form with narrow win over Ulster while Edinburgh beat Zebre to end losing streak
Rhyno Smith’s 77th minute penalty helped Benetton to seal a hard-fought 31-29 triumph over Ulster in their United Rugby Championship (URC) encounter at the Stadio Monigo in Treviso on Saturday.
The result means Benetton have now won three URC matches in a row – after back-to-back victories over Italian rivals Zebre Parma – and they have notched four successive wins in all competitions after also beating Bayonne in the Challenge Cup.
Meanwhile, Ulster have now lost narrowly for the second successive week after they suffered a 15-14 reversal against Munster last week.
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Tomas Albornoz, Onisi Ratave and Ignacio Brex crossed for Benetton, with Ulster responding through Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Mike Lowry and a penalty try.
Ulster enjoyed the bulk of the play during the opening stages, and they were rewarded with O’Sullivan’s second try for the province.
A penalty into touch gave Ulster a lineout 15 metres out, and quick ball through the backs saw number eight Nick Timoney break through three tackles before he was stopped.
The ball was recycled back inside, and O’Sullivan strolled through a gap in the Benetton backline.
Benetton responded and were level within four minutes off the back of a big forward drive.
Their pack pushed Ulster back to within five metres of the line, and the ball was quickly shifted to fly-half Albornoz to dance over the line and convert himself to make it 7-7.
Just short of the midway point of the first half, they were ahead with a superb try.
Albornoz was again at the heart of it as he broke through a series of tackles before a superbly-weighted kick from centre Brex was plucked out of the air on the left touchline by Ratave to run in under the posts.
Albornoz put a straightforward penalty over shortly before the break after James Hume was penalised for offside and John Cooney’s penalty on the stroke of half-time made it 17-10 to the Italians at the interval.
The Benetton fly-half restored the 10-point advantage with a drop-goal two minutes after the restart.
Ulster made it a five-point game after 55 minutes through hooker Herring’s third try of the season.
The Irish side were knocking on the door from the set piece and from a maul close to the line, Herring went low around the side to touch down.
Benetton, though, immediately moved beyond a converted score ahead with a monstrous penalty from just inside the Ulster half from Smith.
Another fine move saw the Italians further stretch their advantage.
Following a turnover by Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, the ball quickly moved through hands for Smith to play the final ball out to Brex on the left wing to crash over in the corner.
Ulster fight back
Ulster hit straight back after being camped on the Benetton line and took advantage of their territory with full-back Lowry burrowing over and Cooney converting.
With just five minutes left on the clock, Ulster edged themselves ahead when another penalty to the corner produced a clean lineout win before Giovanni Pettinelli was yellow-carded for pulling down the driving maul and referee Ben Whitehouse went under the posts for a penalty try.
But Ulster’s discipline again let them down to give Smith a shot at goal with two minutes remaining and he converted via the post to secure a thrilling victory.
Edinburgh scrape past Zebre to end losing streak
Edinburgh brought their four-match losing streak in the United Rugby Championship to an end with a last-minute try from Patrick Harrison helping them to a 24-17 triumph over Zebre Parma.
Harrison’s late score enabled Edinburgh to claim their bonus point and get their season back on track.
Charlie Shiel, Jack Blain and Connor Boyle also crossed for the hosts, with Blair Kinghorn adding a pair of conversions.
Simone Gesi scored a brace of tries for Zebre and Tiff Eden also went over, with Eden adding a conversion.
Zebre, bottom of the table after losing all 11 previous outings, began brightly, only to be thwarted by a home defence in which Sam Skinner was especially effective.
The lock was also an influential figure in attack, and it was his clean catch from a lineout that led to Edinburgh breaking the deadlock just before the end of the first quarter.
The subsequent drive went deep into the Italian 22 before reaching an impasse but Boyle popped up from deep within the melee to feed Shiel, and the scrum-half had just enough space in which to dive over the line in the right corner.
Kinghorn missed the conversion attempt, but two minutes later, Edinburgh had their second try.
Some steady pressure in midfield put Zebre on the back foot, and eventually number eight Nick Haining broke down the right before providing the scoring pass for Blain.
Zebre lost Gesi to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on, but ended the half on the offensive, then opened their account early in the second 40 through the winger himself.
Too many Edinburgh defenders had been dragged into central defence as the Zebre attack tried to force their way over the line, and when the ball came back out, the winger had acres of space in which to dot down.
With half an hour to play, Gesi struck again. Edinburgh failed to defend the narrow side at a lineout, scrum-half Allesandro Fusco broke, and the winger was up in support to collect the pass and slide over. Eden’s second miss left the score tied at 10-10.
Then, with less than 15 minutes to go, Zebre took the lead thanks to some slack defence. Picking up from the base of a scrum, stand-off Eden slipped through a gap then evaded Harry Paterson to score between the posts before adding the two points.
Edinburgh hit back within a minute. A penalty to touch was driven, and Boyle finished off a simple score. Kinghorn’s conversion made it 17-17.
In the dying minutes the home team were awarded two kickable penalties but went for touch both times only to fail to finish off.
When they got a scrum in front of the posts, however, they did get over the line, with substitute Harrison finishing off. Kinghorn’s drop-kicked conversion was the last kick of the match.
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