Defensive Heroics Not Enough

There was jubilation in the Zebre Parma camp after their 12-10 Vodacom United Rugby Championship victory over the Hollywoodbets Sharks at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on Friday evening.

Zebre went into this game winless in the competition this year, although the drought extends to a year and a half when they last won, this victory ending a run of 28 straight losses.

The Hollywoodbets Sharks showed hunger and intensity and their defence was massive, denying their opponents a try throughout the pulsating contest, the small margin of victory underlining just how tight the game was.

Parma, boasting an impressive try-scoring record in the competition this year, came close to scoring in the opening five minutes, but when they earned a penalty from a close-quarter attack, opted for the three points rather than going for a full-house.

Pressure from the restart brought immediate results, forcing a lineout in Zebre’s 22 and then a penalty conceded on defence was slotted by flyhalf Boeta Chamberlain to even matters on the scoreboard.

But a 45m penalty for a tackle infringement restored the Italians’ three point lead just shy of the quarter hour, only for the Hollywoodbets Sharks to strike back again, precision on attack and a well-worked effort closed out by scrumhalf Cameron Wright in the corner. Chamberlain converted well from the touchline to help his side into a 10-6 lead midway through the half.

The Hollywoodbets Sharks won a moral victory after defending their line for nearly 10 minutes, Zebre showing intent on attack at close-quarters but finding the wall impenetrable, eventually losing the ball when they were thwarted for the umpteenth time with five minutes remaining.

It must be said that the defence was brave and, at times, truly heroic, and they could have gone into half-time trailing, had Zebre managed to close out their latter efforts instead of being denied time after time, with the first half ending with the Hollywoodbets Sharks leading 10-6.

The third quarter was a relentless contest between attack and defence, neither side able to contribute to the scoreboard, but not for lack of trying.

As the game went into the final 20 minutes, Aphelele Fassi went low to tackle his opposition scrumhalf, who also dipped low and the tackle was ruled dangerous. Fassi was sent to the sin bin and Zebre cut the lead to just one point with the ensuing penalty.

The hosts went into the lead for the first time with 13 minutes remaining, a fourth penalty edging them closer to their first win in 18 months.

A red card for a dangerous clean-out saw the result slip out of the Hollywoodbets Sharks grasp in the closing minutes of the game as Zebre registered their first win since April last year.