Benetton gave the Bulls a rude awakening to the realities of playing in the north with an excellent performance in a 35-8 victory in the Rainbow Cup final in Treviso on Saturday.
Gameflow: There was understandably plenty of hype around the Bulls going into this match, given their dominance of the local tournaments.
However, Benetton were dominant from the word go, as it took just five minutes for wing Monty Ioane to score their first try and they rarely took their foot off the throttle for the rest of the half.
Aside from a brief period around the 25th minute, when Madosh Tambwe scored their only try, and the final 10 minutes of the second half, the Bulls had very little momentum and territory to speak of. Their big-game players were anonymous and shirked their responsibilities in the face of an aggressive Benetton performance.
This was exactly demonstrated in the 29th minute when a succession of errors led to former Bulls hooker Corniel Els scoring for Benetton. First, Marcell Coetzee let a kick-off drift past him into touch, meaning Benetton had an opportunity just five metres from the Bulls tryline.
Then lock Ruan Nortje failed to control the lineout, tapping over his own tryline, before Ivan van Zyl miscontrolled his attemped dive-pass, allowing the opportunistic Els to pounce.
It would only get worse for the Bulls from there on, as the visitors were handed a hammer blow on the stroke of half time. Benetton were awarded a penalty try and Stravino Jacobs was yellow-carded for a high tackle on Els just as he was driving towards the tryline.
Desperate for points, the Bulls had to come out firing in the second half. However, they made the worst possible start as flyhalf Paolo Garbisi found Ioane with a cross-field kick and the wing flicked the ball inside to see Michele Lamaro score.
The final was all but decided in the 57th minute, when, just after Garbisi slotted a penalty, wing Edoarrdo Padovani finished off a flowing move to give the home side a near unassailable 27-point lead.
Talking points: More than anything, this game will serve as a rude awakening for not just the Bulls, but the other three South African teams that are set to play in the United Rugby Championship.
The Bulls were heavily favoured going into the game, but were ruthlessly outplayed by a team that did not win a single game in the last PRO14 season.
Jake White’s team desperately missed the presence of Springbok veterans Duane Vermeulen and Morne Steyn, but still should have had enough firepower to make this game more competitive than it was.
There is plenty of work to do before the URC gets under way in September.
Bok watch: Unfortunately, this wasn’t a memorable game for any of the Springboks involved. It was an opportunity missed for both Marcell Coetzee and Cornal Hendricks, who, much like their teammates, didn’t really get into the game.
Players that shone: Full credit does need to go to Benetton. Playing in front of their fans, the home side gave their faithful a memorable performance.
Halfback pair Paolo Garbisi and captain Dewaldt Duvenage controlled the game excellently, keeping the Bulls back three on the back foot with some pinpoint kicks behind.
The Benetton back row of Toa Halafini, Michele Lamaro and Sebastian Negri all outplayed their respective counterparts and also deserve plenty of credit for the win, as does the rest of their pack.