The rails came off Edinburgh’s winning start to the Guinness PRO14 season as Benetton came from 14 points down to snatch victory in a controversial finish at Myreside.
The home crowd were furious as referee David Wilkinson gave a series of penalties against the Italians defending a scrum on their own line, but did not give what seemed an obvious penalty try which would have allowed Edinburgh to escape with their third win to start the campaign.
However Edinburgh barely deserved to escape, reverting to their old failings of a lack of execution and silly errors throughout, having looked like they were cruising with two early Chris Dean tries. They also turned down several kickable penalties which would have padded out their early lead or at least tied the game in the late minutes.
Head coach Richard Cockerill refused to blame the referee, saying his team “got what they deserved”.
“We didn’t do what we planned to do and that’s the result,” he said. “We knew there would be some bumps along the way with this team and that’s a pretty big one out there tonight.
“We’ve now got two tough games away to Scarlets and Leinster but that’s what happens when you drop points you shouldn’t have in this league, you’re going to struggle.”
Benetton lost Tomasso Allan in the first minute, two tries and a man to the sinbin but ended the half only four points in arrears as Edinburgh failed to make the most of their many chances.
Weir missed a long penalty as the home side tried to assert control but the stand-off had to make a try-saving last-gasp tackle after a Dean pass was intercepted by Angelo Esposito.
When Edinburgh attacked directly on 18 minutes, Robbie Fruean’s perfectly timed short pass sprung Dean from 30 metres out to sprint for the corner, Weir converting from wide out.
Seven minutes later Cornell Du Preez’s powerful run supported by John Hardie set up position close to the line, and Weir’s miss pass gave Dean an easy second try, converted again by the stand-off.
But the Italians, anonymous in attack to that point, bounced back off the ropes with an excellent series on the half hour finished by Esposito near the posts, Ian McKinley converting.
Edinburgh forced several penalties and a yellow card to Benetton hooker Engjel Makelara, but declined the easy three points and Jason Harries was ruled to have knocked on as he went for the line.
A man down Benetton again showed slick and penetrative attacking play and forced a penalty for McKinley to pull them to 14-10 at the break.
Back to 15 men after the break, Benetton attacked again with purpose, Bradbury was yellow carded infringing on the retreat, and there were nervy murmurings in the crowd as McKinley kicked the Italians to within a point.
And when Kinghorn tried an ill-advised basketball pass in his own 22 that went forward, Benetton capitalised with a second Esposito try converted by McKinley to take a six-point lead.
Weir finally went for goal with a penalty and reduced the margin to three, but Edinburgh failed to convert a series of driving mauls near the Italians’ line as they again refused to kick for the posts.
Edinburgh kept on the pressure, replacement props Traore and Ferrari were both yellow-carded, but despite conceding three penalties at scrums on their own line, referee Wilkinson did not give the penalty try and Benetton held out when WP Nel knocked on near the posts.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Hoyland, C Dean, R Fruean, J Harries; D Weir, N Fowles; M Rizzo, R Ford, S Berghan; A Bresler, B Toolis; M Bradbury (capt), J Hardie, C du Preez.
Replacements: D Marfo for Rizzo 60, WP Nel for Breghan 58, F McKenzie for Bresler 58, H Watson for Hardie 60, S Hidalgo-Clyne for Fowles 60, J Rasolea for Fruean 64.
Benetton Rugby: J Hayward; A Esposito, A Sgarbi, T Allan, T Benvenuti; I McKinley, E Gori; A de Marchi, E Makelara, T Pasquali; M Lazzaroni, F Ruzza; F Minto, A Steyn, D Budd (capt).
Replacements: C Traore for de Marchi 40, S Ferrari for Pasquali 40, M Fuser for Ruzza 60, M Barbini for Minto 69, G Bronzini, L Sperandio for Allan 3, M Zanon for Lazzaroni 71.
Ref: David Wilkinson (IRFU).