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Edinburgh survive Zebre Parma scare to boost play-off bid

By PA
(Photo by PA)

Edinburgh were pushed all the way by basement club Zebre Parma in a 29-26 victory that strengthens their grasp on a United Rugby Championship play-off place.

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Their unbeaten record at home this season remains intact, and the bonus point keeps them in the hunt for a top-four finish, but the hosts made heavy weather of this match at the DAM Health Stadium.

It started brightly enough for Mike Blair’s men and they snatched the lead inside the first minute when Blair Kinghorn caught Zebre napping with a grubber kick into the corner and Mark Bennett raced through to score.

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Jaco van der Walt added the extras, and the hosts continued to dominate for the next 10 minutes, but they then let Zebre right back into it with some crazy indiscipline.

First, Freddie Owsley gave away an unnecessary penalty for taking out an opponent as they chased a Zebre kick downfield.

Then Glen Young coughed up a penalty try for a neck-high tackle on Simone Gesi – and the second-row was lucky that it was a yellow rather than a red card brandished by referee Frank Murphy.

Zebre took the lead when Gabriele Venditti offloaded out of contact to send Junior Laloifi over, although Antonio Rizzi couldn’t manage the tricky conversion.

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That jolt brought Edinburgh back to life, and they regained the lead just before the break when Henry Pyrgos broke from the base of a scrum and Cammy Hutchison finished the try off.

But the home team slipped back into their poor habits of the first half when they conceded an easy try within two minutes of the restart, scored by Gesi who handed off Hamish Watson and Mesu Kunavula then rounded Van der Walt.

And it got worse for the hosts when Marshall Sykes was red-carded after his shoulder made contact with Danilo Fischetti’s head during a ruck clear-out.

Edinburgh dug deep and got themselves back in front when Pierre Schoeman burrowed over from close range, with Van der Walt converting.

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Zebre then gifted Edinburgh the bonus-point try when replacement scrum-half Chris Cook threw a loose pass which was picked up by Bennett, who ran it in from 60 yards.

But the visitors would not lie down and they tied it with five minutes to go when David Sisi burrowed over between the posts and Tim O’Malley scored an unconventional drop-goal conversion, only for Edinburgh to clinch it when Van der Walt slotted a not-rolling-away penalty 30 second later.

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Flankly 2 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

If rugby wants to remain interesting in the AI era then it will need to work on changing the rules. AI will reduce the tactical advantage of smart game plans, will neutralize primary attacking weapons, and will move rugby from a being a game of inches to a game of millimetres. It will be about sheer athleticism and technique,about avoiding mistakes, and about referees. Many fans will find that boring. The answer is to add creative degrees of freedom to the game. The 50-22 is an example. But we can have fun inventing others, like the right to add more players for X minutes per game, or the equivalent of the 2-point conversion in American football, the ability to call a 12-player scrum, etc. Not saying these are great ideas, but making the point that the more of these alternatives you allow, the less AI will be able to lock down high-probability strategies. This is not because AI does not have the compute power, but because it has more choices and has less data, or less-specific data. That will take time and debate, but big, positive and immediate impact could be in the area of ref/TMO assistance. The technology is easily good enough today to detect forward passes, not-straight lineouts, offside at breakdown/scrum/lineout, obstruction, early/late tackles, and a lot of other things. WR should be ultra aggressive in doing this, as it will really help in an area in which the game is really struggling. In the long run there needs to be substantial creativity applied to the rules. Without that AI (along with all of the pro innovations) will turn rugby into a bash fest.

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