Benetton proved too strong for the Bulls as they hammered the Pretoria-based side to win the PRO14 Rainbow Cup title in Treviso on Saturday.
CAPE TOWN – The challenge awaiting the four South African teams in the United Rugby Championship was laid bare on Saturday night as the Bulls were thrashed 35-8 by unfancied Benetton in the Rainbow Cup final in Treviso.
Jake White’s team went into the match as clear favourites, but were humbled by an inspired Benetton side, who made it a memorable farewell for their coach, Kieran Crowley, who will now take charge of the Italy national team.
The absence of Springboks Duane Vermeulen, Trevor Nyakane, Morné Steyn and Marco van Staden was certainly felt as the Bulls were shell-shocked in the early stages due to the intensity and ingenuity from the home side.
Benetton mixed up their play smartly as their rush defence harried the Bulls into mistakes, while their forwards managed to stop the much-vaunted line-out drives from the South Africans.
The Bulls were also too gun-shy initially, opting to rather kick the ball downfield instead of testing the Benetton defence. And when they did win a few penalties, captain Marcell Coetzee opted for touch instead of taking the three points.
The Italian outfit displayed greater hunger on the day, knocking back the Bulls and forcing them to scramble on defence with well-place grubbers and chips, as well as slick handling on attack.
Benetton got going after just five minutes, when slippery left wing Monty Ioane was the recipient of quick hands down the backline to cross the whitewash after the forwards did the hard yards.
Former Stormers scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage, who is the Benetton captain, kept his team’s attacking play flowing, and they were able to stretch the Bulls defence out wide, while also finding gaps through a number of flimsy tackles.
The 30-plus degree heat also seemed to sap the energy out of the Coetzee’s men, as they took a number of wrong options when in possession as well – in one instance, centre Marco Jansen van Vuren chose to go for the line instead of passing inside to Nizaam Carr or Ivan van Zyl, and he was tackled into touch.
Benetton took full advantage, with left-footed flyhalf Paolo Garbisi driving them back with his tactical kicks, while also adding three points to the scoreboard to make it 8-0 after 20 minutes.
The Bulls actually managed to get back into the game when hooker Johan Grobbelaar was stopped just short from a maul, and wing Madosh Tambwe dived over.
Flyhalf Chris Smith then slotted a penalty from the halfway line to level the scores at 8-8, and it looked like the Bulls were back in the game.
But disaster struck from the subsequent kickoff when Coetzee let the ball bounce into touch, and a tap-back from the lineout was not fielded by Van Zyl, which saw former Bulls hooker Corniel Els dive on to the ball for the five-pointer.
The knockout blow came on the halftime whistle, when Els charged towards the line and was high-tackled by Stravino Jacobs. Els lost the ball, but the match officials ruled that it was a penalty try.
Suddenly it was a 20-8 lead for the hosts in front of a rowdy 1 000-strong crowd at the Stadio di Monigo, and they got even louder after the break when flank Michele Lamaro caught an offload from the lively Ioane to score the fourth try.
Garbisi added a penalty to make it 30-8, and right wing Edoardo Padovani finished things off by bursting through four Bulls tacklers to dot down in the corner.
White brought on most of his reserves at the 50-minute mark, but the damage had been done by then.
The Bulls just had no answer to Benetton’s skill, physicality and cohesion, and the Italian club were crowned worthy champions in the end.
Benetton 35 – Tries: Monty Ioane, Corniel Els, Penalty Try, Michele Lamaro, Edoardo Padovani. Conversion: Paolo Garbisi (1). Penalties: Garbisi (2).
Bulls 8 – Try: Madosh Tambwe. Penalty: Chris Smith (1).