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Benetton are no strangers to upsetting Bulls

SPOTLIGHT: Benetton is flying the Italian flag having qualified for the quarterfinals of the United Rugby Championship, where they face the Bulls at Loftus on Saturday.

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Italian teams have missed out on the play-offs in the previous two URC seasons but their performance this season allowed them to sneak into the last eight.

The Bulls will host their first quarterfinal in the URC after securing the SA Shield and a top-two finish in the overall standings.

From 16 teams down to eight, with all the drama that came with an impressive final round of the URC, each of the five different countries involved in the competition will have a representative that can challenge for the trophy.

Both sides have a superior general in Johan Goossen (Bulls) and Jacob Umaga (Benetton), and they have prolific runners like Canan Moodie & Kurt-Lee Arendse, and Rhyno Smith (Benetton).

The Bulls’ pack dominated against the powerful Sharks front row the past weekend but the Italians have firepower of their own in their pack with the likes of their inspirational captain Michele Lamaro and a back row that includes No. 8 Toa Halafihi and Seb Negri.

The Bulls have given the championship the biggest amount of ballooned scorelines in its short history, something that might at least partially be ascribed to the fact that playing at altitude, where a game can easily run away from you in the rarified atmosphere, is still alien to most of the visiting overseas teams.

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Their biggest victory this season was when they beat the highly-rated Ospreys 61-24 at Loftus in April and their biggest loss came at the hands of Leinster (14-47), in the 13th round.

Benetton won their first major title in 2021 when the Italians belied their underdog status by beating the Bulls in the final of the Rainbow Cup.

Since then the Italian side has recorded some dramatic finishes, none more so than the 31-6 thumping of Edinburgh as they ended their dramatic URC regular season in fine fashion to qualify for the play-offs.

Their performance in the URC this season must be rated as one of their best in years. They managed to record 11 victories out of their 18 outings, thus ending the regular season in seventh position in the table with 54 points.

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The Bulls had another sterling season having lost only five of their games thus moving them to second place on 66 points.

And while the Bulls beat Benetton 56-35 a few weeks back, the number of points conceded and Benetton’s demolition of Edinburgh in the winner-takes-all eliminator showed how good they can be.

Benetton skipper Michele Lamaro was upbeat after his team’s victory over Edinburgh in Treviso.

“It’s the best day of the season for us, 100 percent. It’s unbelievable,” said Lamaro.

“We knew all the supporters were by our side and would give us a really big push to get the edge. We are fully happy with the result and now we are looking forward to next week.

“We want to keep going and give our best shot. Whatever happens happens, but we will be ready 100 percent.”

In the Bulls’ 26-14 victory over the Sharks in Durban, Akker van der Merwe took his try tally for the season up to 11.

 

Only fellow hooker Johnny Matthews stands above him in the URC try chart, having also claimed a double on the weekend to move up to 14.

His brace helped Glasgow survive a scare at home to Zebre as they won 38-26.

And in other news Benetton announced that they will bid farewell to twelve of their star players at the end of the season: Giacomo Da Re (3 seasons, 14 appearances, 2 tries), Dewaldt Duvenage (6 seasons, 97 appearances, 8 tries), Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (2 seasons, 11 appearances, 1 try), Marco Lazzaroni (10 seasons, 129 appearances, 7 tries), Gianmarco Lucchesi (4 seasons, 47 appearances, 17 tries),  Giacomo Nicotera (4 seasons, 41 appearances, 2 tries), Edoardo Padovani (4 seasons, 45 appearances, 13 tries), Giovanni Pettinelli (6 seasons, 75 appearances, 5 tries), Joaquin Riera (5 seasons, 46 appearances, 4 tries), Henry Time-Stowers (2 seasons, 22 appearances, 1 try), Marcus Watson (2 seasons, 16 appearances, 7 tries), Federico Zani (8 seasons, 82 appearances, 2 tries)

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