Rainbow Cup

Bulls produce a shocker as brilliant Benetton gallop to Rainbow Cup title

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Dewaldt Duvenage of Benetton (Photo by Roberto Bregani/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Dewaldt Duvenage of Benetton (Photo by Roberto Bregani/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The Bulls managed to conjure up their poorest showing under Jake White to date at the worst possible time as a jovial and relentless Benetton claimed a comprehensive 35-8 victory to walk away with the Rainbow Cup on Saturday night.

SCORECARD | Rainbow Cup final - Benetton v Bulls

From a big picture perspective, the result is a timely and vivid reminder to the South African franchises that their entry into Europe and the United Rugby Championship, slated to start in late September, will not suddenly mean an easier ride than Super Rugby.

Kieran Crowley's Italians might've finished the competition unbeaten, but - with due respect - they're not the strongest team in PRO Rugby by any stretch of the imagination.

After all, Benetton didn't win a single match out of 16 in last season's final PRO14 campaign.

Nonetheless, the hosts were deserved winners, producing a performance brimming with power, incision and variety.

Their willingness to play at a high tempo from the outset was a masterstroke, clearly catching the Bulls off-guard, who probably banked on a tighter, more attritional start.

But it wasn't just their attacking mindset that was impressive.

Benetton quite easily won the battle of the collisions, an indictment on the Bulls' traditionally bulky pack and exploited the vistitors' previously watertight defensive system by targeting the fringes.

It's little wonder they had such a wonderful platform to play from.

However, it's also undeniable that the Bulls were so bad that one shouldn't immediately use this match as an example that South Africa can't make a fist in Europe.

White's troops were nowhere from the start.

That was evident through the ease with which Benetton scored their opener through winger Monty Ioane.

It was a classic recipe - forwards consistently getting over the gain-line before some brilliant hands led to the score.

The Bulls didn't help their cause by missing touch from four kicks out of hand, nullifying their strength in the line-outs and allowing the hosts to run everything back at them.

It took all of 27 minutes for the men from Loftus to get on the board, when an admittedly stalled rolling maul allowed hooker Johan Grobbelaar to break and invite wing Madosh Tambwe to dot down.

Benetton flyhalf Paolo Garbisi's kick-off directly into touch and a subsequent scrum penalty suggested the Bulls were finding their feet as pivot Chris Smith nailed a long range penalty.

It was an illusion.

First, skipper Marcell Coetzee allowed a restart to go over his head and into touch.

From the line-out, lock Walt Steenkamp tapped back sluggishly for scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl, who fumbled and watched in horror as home hooker Corniel Els, a Bull still back in January, came swooping in.

Coetzee was also culpable for not being more alert once it became apparent Van Zyl was in trouble.

Emboldened, Benetton - in hindsight - landed the killer blow when their punchy attacking play drew a high tackle from rookie Bulls wing Stravino Jacobs just as Els was on his way to scoring his second.

Els lost the ball, but the hit was clumsy and deservedly received a yellow card, earning Benetton a penalty try in the process.

Nothing changed after half-time as Benetton continued to create oodles of space on the wings, first leading to Garbisi launching a delightful chip to Ioane, who made use of a favourable bounce and fed flank Michele Lamaro.

Garbisi then rounded off a superb individual performance with a darting side-step before off-loading to wing Edoardo Padovani for the score that landed the knock-out punch.

The Bulls had a bit more possession in the final quarter, but their poor handling and technical inadequacies meant there was never any way they'd claw their way back into the match.     

Point scorers:

Benetton - (20) 35

Tries: Monty Ioane, Corniel Els, penalty try, Michele Lamaro, Edoardo Padovani

Conversion: Paolo Garbisi

Penalties: Garbisi (2)

Bulls - (8) 8

Try: Madosh Tambwe

Penalty: Chris Smith

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