Bulls made to work hard in quarter-final victory over Benetton

David Skippers
Kurt-Lee Arendse Bulls 2023 - PA.jpg

Bulls and Springboks flyer Kurt-Lee Arendse.

The Bulls secured their spot in the United Rugby Championship (URC) semi-finals on Saturday courtesy of a 30-23 victory over Benetton in Pretoria, but the win was harder work than it should have been.

In a fast-paced and entertaining encounter, momentum between the sides ebbed and flowed throughout but the Bulls got the rub of the green in the end and held on for their win.

Both sides scored three tries with Kurt-Lee Arendse (2) and David Kriel crossing the whitewash for the Bulls with Onisi Ratave, Tomas Albornoz and Malakai Fekitoa dotting down for the visitors.

The home side’s other points came via the boot of Johan Goosen, who slotted three conversions and as many penalties, while Rhyno Smith succeeded with a couple of penalties and a conversion for Benetton.

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The Bulls made a fantastic start when shortly after the kick off Willie le Roux delivered a teasing chip kick which bounced around inside the visitors’ 22. Arendse was quickest to react and after gathering the ball he beat three defenders on his way over the try-line.

The hosts continued to dominate as the match progressed but despite being camped inside their opponents’ half for most of the next 10 minutes, they had nothing to show for their efforts.

In the 11th minute some of their players went off their feet at a ruck which gave Smith the opportunity to open Benetton’s account and he slotted the resulting penalty.

With points on the board, Benetton’s confidence grew and they did well to string several phases together on attack. And midway through the half they thought they had scored their first try when Ratave crossed in the left-hand corner but his effort was disallowed after television replays revealed that Federico Ruzza had strayed offside at a maul before charging down Embrose Papier’s kick from which Benetton regathered possession.

That proved a costly indiscretion as shortly afterwards Harold Vorster caught the visitors’ defence napping when he put his team on the front foot with a strong carry in midfield which took play into Benetton’s 22. The ball was recycled quickly and Arendse shrugged off a couple of defenders before crossing for his second five-pointer.

The next 10 minutes was an arm wrestle as both sides gave the ball plenty of air as they tried to gain the ascendancy and Benetton were rewarded in the 32nd minute when Ratave dotted down after Ruzza and Fekitoa combined brilliantly in the build-up.

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However, five minutes before half-time Goosen slotted a monster penalty from 54 metres out which mean the the teams changed sides at the break with the Bulls holding a 17-8 lead.

The second half started brightly for the Italian outfit as two minutes after the restart Smith narrowed the deficit when he slotted his second penalty after Wico Louw was blown up for illegal scrummaging.

The men from Treviso then conceded a breakdown penalty in the 51st minute and Goosen made no mistake from the kicking tee. Despite that, Benetton continued to attack and in the 58th minute Albornoz glided through a gap in the Bulls defence before scoring his five-pointer.

Smith added the extras which meant the match was evenly poised with the Bulls holding a slender 20-18 lead but the Bulls struck back when Kriel crossed for his try after Goosen laid the groundwork with a mazy run in the build-up. Goosen then offloaded to Papier, who got his pass out to Kriel and he rounded off to put extend his side’s lead again.

However, Benetton would not surrender and five minutes later Fekitoa crossed for his converted try which set up a tense finish.

And although the Italian side continued to test the Bulls’ defence, Jake White’s troops finished stronger and secured their spot in the URC‘s semi-finals when Goosen slotted with his third three-pointer off the kicking tee in the 75th minute.

The teams

Bulls: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sebastian de Klerk, 13 David Kriel, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Cameron Hanekom, 7 Elrigh Louw, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Ruan Nortje (c), 4 Ruan Vermaak, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp
Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Francois Klopper, 19 Reinhardt Ludwig, 20 Jannes Kirsten, 21 Keagan Johannes, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Sergeal Petersen

Benetton: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Tommaso Menoncello, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Onisi Ratave, 10 Tomas Albornoz, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Michele Lamaro (c), 6 Alessandro Izekor, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Edoardo Iachizzi, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Bautista Bernasconi, 1 Thomas Gallo
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Mirco Spagnolo, 18 Giosué Zilocchi, 19 Eli Snyman, 20 Niccolò Cannone, 21 Lorenzo Cannone, 22 Alessandro Garbisi, 23 Jacob Umaga

Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU)
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White (SRU), Adam Jones (WRU)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)

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