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Benetton send message for the North upending Bulls in Treviso final

Benetton send message for the North upending Bulls in Treviso final

Treviso, Italy - A new era has dawned for South African rugby and the message is a clear one. The South is coming. And the North is more than ready for them.

A Barberton daisy has been the first to put down roots on the fields of the Northern Hemisphere as a precursor to the newly-unveiled and much-anticipated United Rugby Championship. But it wasn’t the showing the Bulls will have wanted as they went down 35-8 against the Italian outfit Benetton in their Pro14 Rainbow Cup Final at the Stadio di Monigo on Saturday.

On an intensely hot and humid evening in Treviso, it was unfortunate for the Bulls – who clearly missed their stars – that they did not bring their best of the past season to a game where they were hoping to put their best foot forward as a South African marker for this new integration into European rugby.

Earlier in the week, coach Jake White had correctly said: “This is a great catalyst for everything. It’s a catalyst for us to get into the Northern Hemisphere.

“It’s a catalyst for when the British and Irish Lions come to South Africa. And it’s a catalyst to feel in even a very small way now just how big this thing can become, and we’re fortunate to be part of it.”

Bob Skinstad, the former Springbok and local TV commentator for this match, could also appreciate this on the night.

“The expectation around South Africa is massive in Europe. I’ve seen five or six different iterations and questions of, ‘Should we do it this way or that way?’ And the mix now is perfect. They’ve settled on this and it’s the first time nobody has had any pushback. Everybody feels this works.”

But it was almost as if that expectation weighed heavily on the Bulls as they looked far from the composed and controlled team they have been this season. Their mistakes were pounced upon by a free-flowing Benetton who were able to maintain their intensity and passion as they relished playing in front of their first crowd – 1,500 of them – in several months in a country where the global pandemic hit hardest in its early days.

It was a torrid opening few minutes for the Bulls as Benetton did what they have done throughout this Pro14 Rainbow Cup season and surprised their opponents, scoring an opening try in the corner through left wing Monty Ioane just on the five-minute mark. Benetton stretched their lead to 8-0 with a penalty in the 20th minute as the Bulls struggled to settle into a rhythm of their own.

The tide showed some sense of turning in the 22nd minute when the Bulls made it into the Benetton 22 for the first time and began to play the game at their pace. Wing Madosh Tambwe put them back in the game with a try in the 28th minute, and flyhalf Chris Smith levelled the scores with a penalty in the 32nd.

But the Bulls’ mistakes were costing them, and a lineout error on their tryline that left scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl scrambling for a loose ball saw Benetton’s hooker Corniel Els jump on it and score a try against his old team. A penalty-try on the stroke of halftime, with Stravino Jacobs shown a yellow card, summed up the Bulls’ evening.

They left themselves with too much work to do in the second half, and a match they were never really in continued to get away from them.