Benetton were quick out of the blocks, reminiscent of their dominant display in the Rainbow Cup final, but the Bulls eventually managed to iron out their mistakes to earn victory.
PRETORIA – It was a hard slog for the Bulls, but coach Jake White praised the character of his team for fighting back from 13-0 down to beat Benetton 46-29 to keep their United Rugby Championship play-off hopes alive at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The Italian outfit were quick out of the blocks, and it was reminiscent of their dominant display in the Rainbow Cup final last year as they harried the Bulls into mistakes and played at a quick tempo to leave the home side flat-footed for most of the first half.
But the men from Pretoria eventually managed to iron out their handling errors in particular, as well as their defensive mistakes, to claw their way back into the game through first-half tries by Cyle Brink and Kurt-Lee Arendse.
Their execution was much better in the second half, and they ran in six tries in total to honour one of their favourite sons, Pedrie Wannenburg, who died in a tragic car accident in Houston on Friday night – with a moment’s silence observed before kick-off.
“It was almost the same as when we faced Benetton the last time – we let them get a good start. As I said to the players now, I am really happy that we learnt from that,” White said after the match.
“In Benetton, when we let them get a good start, we didn’t catch up. It’s a massive learning for us. To go 13-0 down and 16-3 down, and still end up winning 46-29 means that we showed a lot of character. We are happy with that.
“It’s also important to say that our thoughts are with Pedrie’s family, on the loss of their loved one.”
One of the major problems in the opening 40 minutes was the breakdown, where the Bulls were unable to secure possession inside the Benetton 22 as the visitors won a few penalties on the ground.
But after initially using one-off runners off scrumhalf Embrose Papier, which was easy to stop, the Bulls started bringing their strike-runners like Arendse into the game more often, while the likes of Ruan Nortje, Johan Grobbelaar and captain Marcell Coetzee offloaded smartly in the tackle as they dotted down four times in the second half.
The best of the lot was finished by wing Canan Moodie, which came off the back of a thrilling break from inside his own half by Arendse.
“You could always criticise every game, and now and again we were inaccurate at the breakdown. We also couldn’t get out of our half a few times, and it began there,” White said.
“We kicked the ball out directly three or four times, or we ran with the ball and kicked it away. So, it’s not just about the breakdowns, but we need to show a bit of calmness, and we lost the ball a few times near the tryline. Perhaps we started slowly because we haven’t played for two weeks.
“It (not finishing well) is a concern, but we got there many, many times and didn’t finish. That’s one of the secrets of being a really good team and winning competitions like this: you’ve got to make sure that (you finish).
“You are not going to get 10 chances in a game. We got a few today, but when you play the big sides… and I’m not taking anything away from Benetton. We had to work hard to finish off those moves. But we are going to have to improve if we want to get better.”
Bulls 46 – Tries: Cyle Brink, Kurt-Lee Arendse (2), Marcell Coetzee, Canan Moodie, Simphiwe Matanzima. Conversions: Chris Smith (3), Morné Steyn (2). Penalties: Smith (2).
Benetton 29 – Tries: Tommaso Menoncello (2). Conversions: Rhyno Smith (2). Penalties: Smith (5).