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Zebre comeback in vain as Lions roar to opening win in Parma

By PA
Carlo Canna (Photo by Massimiliano Carnabuci/LiveMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Emirates Lions survived a stunning second-half fightback from Zebre to begin the inaugural United Rugby Championship with a thrilling 38-26 win in Parma.

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The South Africans looked set to blow away their hosts as a pair of quickfire tries from Rabz Maxwane added to scores from Jamba Ulengo, Burger Odendaal and Jaco Visagie to help establish a commanding 35-0 half-time advantage at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.

But Zebre produced an astonishing response thanks to scores from Carlo Canna, Tommaso Boni, Oliviero Fabiani and a penalty try before agonisingly falling short.

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The Lions’ quest for victory was also boosted by 13 points from the boot of Jordan Hendrikse while Canna kicked four points for the hosts.

The Italians registered just four wins from 21 games across the PRO14 and Rainbow Cup last season and they were swiftly staring down the barrel as the curtain raised on the new competition.

Lions wing Ulengo completed a slick team move by collecting a wonderful pass from fly-half Hendrikse to claim an historic first try of the championship in the 11th minute before captain Odendaal crossed under the posts five minutes later.

The electric pace of wing Maxwane then appeared to have taken the game away from Michael Bradley’s side.

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He scored arguably the try of the night by expertly finishing a flowing team move which began on the opposite flank before bursting on to a line-splitting kick to touch down just three minutes later.

Rampaging hooker Visagie capped a one-sided opening 40 minutes by seizing on a loose ball to bulldoze over wide on the left.

Zebre’s bid to gain a foothold in the contest was repeatedly thwarted by momentum-halting turnovers.

The one-way traffic looked set to continue after the break when Hendrikse added a penalty.

But that kicked proved to be the visitors’ only points of an enthralling second period in which the hosts launched a spirited response.

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Canna reduced the arrears by finishing a free-flowing move in the 51st minute and then converting before the penalty try breathed additional life into proceedings

Sibusiso Sangweni’s sin-binning further aided the home team’s cause and they took full advantage as Boni and Fabiani bundled over in quick succession to set up a grandstand finish.

Zebre’s remarkable reaction increased decibel levels on the terraces but, despite constant pressure in the closing stages, they were unable to complete the turnaround as the Lions breathed a sigh of relief.

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