PORT ELIZABETH – The Southern Kings were threatening to make a comeback midway through the second half, but it was not to be as Italian side Zebre ran out deserved 43-17 winners in a PRO14 clash at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday night.
The Parma-based club surprised the former Super Rugby side by scoring two tries in as many minutes, and led 14-0 after the opening five minutes.
Both touchdowns came from slick handling by the Italians, while the Kings also fell off too many tackles for coach Deon Davids’ liking.
Inside centre Tommaso Castello was the first to finish, rolling over a Kings defender and eventually forcing the ball down in the fourth minute.
Moments later, Zebre launched a counter-attack from inside their own half, and once they moved into the red zone of the Kings, left wing Mattia Bellini showed his strength to score from a pick and go to put the visitors 14-0 up.
The Kings battled to recover from those early setbacks, and even though flyhalf Pieter-Steyn de Wet slotted a penalty in the 10th minute, the home side were on the back foot throughout.
The Italians were dominant at scrum-time, with Kings loosehead prop Schalk Ferreira coming under enormous pressure from Zebre No 3 Roberto Tenga.
When No 8 and Man of the Match Renato Giammarioli went over in the left-hand corner for the third Zebre try in the 21st minute, and impressive flyhalf Carlo Canna slotted the conversion and a penalty, the visitors were out of sight almost at 22-3 up.
Zebre varied their play well, and whenever outside centre Tommaso Boni and left wing Bellini got the ball, they beat the defender and made metres with ball-in-hand.
The Kings were too passive in defence, and their drift approach didn’t work as they were unable to close down the Zebre backline.
Boni got on to the scoreboard himself with a fine finish from a lineout move, where Canna put Bellini away on his inside.
But the Kings never gave up, and after lock Dries van Schalkwyk intercepted a pass inside the 22, he surged forward and put in a skilful grubber that replacement scrumhalf Godlen Masimla chased down to score his first PRO14 try.
Six minutes later, Kings tighthead Luvuyo Pupuma powered over too, and suddenly it was a contest again at 29-17.
But there were no late dramas for Zebre as Giulio Bisegni and Jacopo Sarto secured the victory with tries in the last 13 minutes.
Southern Kings 17 – Tries: Godlen Masimla, Luvuyo Pupuma. Conversions: Pieter-Steyn de Wet (2). Penalty: De Wet (1).
Zebre 43 – Tries: Tommaso Castello, Mattia Bellini, Renato Giammarioli, Tommaso Boni, Giulio Bisegni, Jacopo Sarto. Conversions: Carlo Canna (5). Penalty: Canna (1).
African News Agency (ANA)