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By Athenkosi Tsotsi

Sports Reporter


URC Result: Bulls book their place in the last four with Benetton win

The Bulls made their home advantage count as they won 30-23 against Benetton in Pretoria.


The Bulls managed to hold their nerve to book their place in the semi-finals of the United Rugby Championship after they saw off Italian side Benetton 30-23 on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld.

The side from Pretoria will now face either Leinster or Ulster (they play later on Saturday night, at 6pm, at the Aviva Stadium) at home next Saturday.

Jake White’s charges showed character to win the arm wrestling match, securing their place in the last four of the URC.

Even though they were not overly dominant in the game, they managed to get the job done, and that’s what matters in the playoff stages.

Fast start by the Bulls

In the build-up to the match, the Bulls stated their intention to start with high intensity and the need to do well in what they are good at.

Within 25 seconds of the game, they had ticked those boxes when Willie le Roux picked up a ball in the midfield with Kurt-Lee Arendse chasing it to the 22m line, picking it up and running to dot down. Flyhalf Johan Goosen slotted in the conversion to make the score 7-0 in the opening seconds.

The Bulls managed to get the crowd involved in the game, entertaining them with their ball movement and soft touches that helped recycle the ball. Credit must go to the skills coaches – Jean Tiedt, Kennedy Tsimba and Phiwe Nomlomo – because their work shows in the handling skills of the Bulls players.

As soon as the game settled, however, it was clear it would not be a walk in the park for the Bulls as Benetton looked to have matched them when it came to the physical and set-piece battles.

Since it was a knockout game, points were the order of the game, and teams were keen to grab them when they were there for the taking. The visitors registered their first points through the boot of South African fullback Rhyno Smith. 

Arendse blow

Midway through the first half, the Bulls extended their lead through a converted try by Arendse, who received the ball on the inside from Goosen and powered his way over the try line.

The Springbok winger has been influential for the Bulls in the run-in and seemed to take charge of the match.

But Arendse’s day would be cut short after he went out with a head injury after clashing with Benetton’s Malakai Fekitoa.

Benetton tested the Bulls’ defence, but knock-ons and not being tight at the breakdown set them back. They eventually got their first five-point score when Onisi Ratave finished in the corner.

The two teams engaged in a physical match that was played in the midfield. It was an intriguing tactical battle as both sides have similar traits.

Benetton are known for their discipline, so when they gave away a penalty in a kickable position, Goosen went for the posts and got three points.

The Bulls controlled the game in the latter stages of the first half and went to the break with a 17-8 lead.

Benetton on top

The second stanza started with the away side motivated. They won a penalty scrum that was converted by Smith. There was an element of déjà vu, with Benetton dominating the game in the second half as they did when they met three weeks ago.

With Benetton having possession and territorial dominance, the Bulls tried to control the game without the ball and force their opponents into making errors at the breakdown. It worked as they won two penalties, with Goosen slotting in one.

The Italian side made the momentum count with a converted try via flyhalf Tomas Albornoz to close the gap to 20-18 by the hour mark.

The Benetton score had the Loftus crowd worried with the atmosphere being sombre. Two minutes later the supporters would be in celebratory mode after David Kriel finished a lovely worked move in the corner, with Goosen converting to make the score 27-18.

The Bulls’ defence was once again at fault for not being tight when Benetton scored their third try through Fekitoa.

This has become something customary with the Bulls, their defensive system fading away in the second half.

Gutsy Bulls

The score was 27-23 with ten minutes left in the game. The Bulls played in Benetton’s half and were pragmatic in their approach, looking for contact. Goosen extended the lead with a penalty to seven points.

The home side was not in the clear as Benetton pushed for a try, as they camped in the Bulls’ five-metre line. The Bulls’ defence was on their toes; they were disciplined and eventually turned the ball over.

After a few scrums, the Bulls finally kicked out the ball for the 30-23 win.

Scorers

Bulls: Tries – Kurt-Lee Arendse (2),David Kriel ; Conversions – Johan Goosen (3); Penalties – Goosen (2)

Benetton: Tries – Onisi Ratave, Tomas Albornoz, Malakai Fekitoa; Conversions – Rhyno Smith; Penalties – Smith (2) 

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