The Vodacom Bulls head into Saturday’s clash against Benetton with a clear message that they are a vastly different team to the one that was beaten by the Italians in the 2021 Rainbow Cup final.
The Bulls were humbled 35-8 when these two teams first met in Treviso in June but, on the eve of the rematch, Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee has a clear message for the visitors: “A lot has happened in a year.”
“Benetton won fair and square last time, and we took that on the chin,” Coetzee said ahead of Saturday’s Vodacom United Rugby Championship match at Loftus Versfeld. “But we’ve grown enormously as a team since then.
“It was a bit of a reality check for some in terms of the tempo of rugby being played in the northern hemisphere, but we’ve grown through that. That experience helped us to prepare well going into the Currie Cup and the United Rugby Championship. Now we’re excited about not just the prospect of playing the Rainbow Cup champions but also fighting for a spot in the playoffs.
“We know every game is crucial going forward and you can’t afford any slip-ups now. So we want to welcome Benetton to South Africa. We hope they have a good time off the field, but on the field it’s all business.”
The Bulls, eighth in the URC compared to Benetton’s 13th, are indeed a different prospect for the Italians after having beaten quality northern hemisphere opposition leading into this match, and Chris Smith is adamant that the Pretoria outfit won’t be side-tracked by anything other than their playoff hopes.
“After playing only South African teams for two years straight, to go over to Italy and play an overseas side for the first time in a while was a proper rugby lesson for us. But we’re not looking at this weekend motivated by revenge. If you do that you get side-tracked,” he said.
“This is the start of a stretch of three games which are must-wins for us in terms of our playoff aspirations, and I’m just looking forward to another opportunity to play against a quality Benetton side. Last time they had an extremely passionate Italian crowd behind them, so for us to have the Loftus crowd back for this match is going to be very special.”
Madosh Tambwe added: “For a lot of us, that Benetton match last year was a new experience, but that’s over now. We’re at the business end of this competition, and we’re enjoying that challenge as a team. But at least we now get to give them a bit of a South African taste of what things are like this side.”