The Bulls often moan about the stereotype that portrays them as playing ponderous, one-dimensional kicking rugby but they did that and more in the Rainbow Cup final as they were deservedly hammered 35-8 by an underdog Benetton Treviso side that were full of vigour and invention.
The Bulls’ physicality and intensity were meant to be their trump cards but Benetton, guided by an astute Kiwi coach in Kieran Crowley, merely speeded the game up in hot, humid conditions, getting the ball quickly out of the collision areas, and with physical contests stripped of their importance, the visiting side were left looking like dumb brutes.
Outscored by five tries to one, the Bulls embarrassingly lost by the sort of scoreline many expected to be their winning margin.
In many ways the Bulls were the architects of their own demise as they consistently failed to kick the ball into touch even if just to slow Benetton down; flyhalf Chris Smith perhaps had concussion judging by the shiner he took the field with because his head was not in the game as he constantly fed the dangerous Treviso back three.
The Bulls’ lineouts were scrappy – tapped balls leading to two tries – and even their rolling maul failed to gain much traction. There were basic errors aplenty in one of the most frustrating Bulls days for many years.
The Bulls did score via a maul, and the quick thinking of wing Madosh Tambwe, to go into the last 10 minutes of the first half level at 8-8.
But eighthman and captain Marcell Coetzee, who produced a strangely timid display for someone who wants to force their way back into the Springbok squad, then allowed a restart to go over his head and bounce into touch. Lock Walt Steenkamp tapped instead of catching the ball, scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl was caught between passing or dotting down, and hooker Corniel Els of Benetton pounced for the try.
The former Bulls man was then the central figure as Benetton scored on the stroke of halftime to take their lead to 20-8. A clever kick behind by scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenhage saw the Bulls again struggle to clear their lines properly, another tapped lineout putting them under pressure, and Els then burst from a rolling maul but lost the ball over the line.
A penalty try was awarded though because Stravino Jacobs, who was yellow-carded, had tackled him around the neck. It was a fair decision, because either Els or Duvenhage would certainly have scored.
Benetton flyhalf Paolo Garbisi produced a masterclass at flyhalf and he continued to boss the second half as the home side scored three more tries, continuing to create space out wide with ease.
The big question the Springboks will be asking ahead of their crunch series against the British and Irish Lions is whether this feeble display by the team that has been so dominant at home was just an awful day in the office or indicative of the poor standard of South African rugby?
Benetton Treviso: Tries – Monty Ioane, Corniel Els, penalty try, Michele Lamaro, Edoardo Padovani. Conversion – Paolo Garbisi. Penalties – Garbisi (2).
Bulls: Try – Madosh Tambwe. Penalty – Chris Smith.