Zebre scored four tries to claim a 34-16 bonus-point win against the Kings in Parma on Friday. DYLAN JACK reports.
With all the positivity that went into this week, the Kings will be disappointed with the start they have made to the season, especially when considering that this could be one of their best chances of getting a victory in Europe.
The visitors showed plenty of intent in the second half, playing expansively and making plenty of linebreaks, but were still let down by basic elements of their tactical and defensive play.
It was an error-ridden match as both sides tossed away good opportunities and struggled to hold onto a slippery ball in wet conditions.
With a few new faces, the Kings made a nervous start to the game, turning the ball over in their own 22. The hosts made them pay as hooker Oliviero Fabiani went over from a powerful maul just three minutes into the match.
The visitors showed some positivity, taking the ball through a number of phases but fell further behind through a penalty from flyhalf Carlo Canna, who controlled the game well.
However, the Kings hit right back when fullback Michael Botha ran onto a well-weighted pass from Masixole Banda, slicing through the defence and diving in for their first try.
It was typical Italian play from the hosts, who used their powerful forward pack to drag them into Kings 22, while they kept the game loose. The Kings did not help themselves, with ill-discipline making it all the easier for the hosts.
Five minutes before the break, Zebre extended their lead when big wing Mattia Bellini powered past a couple of tacklers and reached over for their second, allowing them to restore their 10-point lead at the break.
Banda narrowed the scores early in the second half with a couple of penalties as the Kings started to grow into the game.
However, some shoddy defending again let the visitors down as replacement flank Jimmy Tuivati handed off two poor tackles to go over in the corner.
Banda kept his side in touch with a third penalty, but Canna responded in kind as the battle between the flyhalves continued.
The visitors received a blow as they had to finish the game a man down when flank Andisa Ntsila was yellow-carded for an intentional knock-down when they were under pressure, before lock Bobby de Wee was also sent to the bin just before the hooter.
The Kings defended bravely but the dam wall eventually burst as replacement lock Apisai Tauyavuca drove over for a debut try to seal the game and the bonus point.
Zebre – Tries: Oliviero Fabiani, Mattia Bellini, Jimmy Tuivati, Apisai Tauyavuca. Conversion: Carlo Canna (4). Penalty: Canna (2).
Kings – Try: Michael Botha. Conversion: Masixole Banda. Penalty: Banda (3).
Zebre – 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Castello (c), 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 David Sisi, 5 George Biagi, 4 Leonard Krumov, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Subs: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Daniele Rimpelli, 18 Giosué Zilocchi, 19 Apisai Tauyavuca, 20 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Edoardo Padovani
Kings – 15 Michael Botha, 14 Michael Makase, 13 Harlon Klaasen, 12 Berton Klaasen, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Masixole Banda, 9 Poerie van Rooyen, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Tienie Burger, 6 Bakkies Brown, 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 Schalk Oelofse, 3 Luvuyo Pupuma, 2 Michael Willemse (c), 1 Justin Forwood.
Subs: 16 Alandre van Rooyen, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Luphumlo Mguca, 19 JC Astle, 20 Andisa Ntsila, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Martin du Toit, 23 Ulrich Beyers.