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Benetton boost play-off hopes

MATCH REPORT: Benetton kept themselves firmly on course for the United Rugby Championship play-offs by claiming a 36-19 bonus-point victory over the Dragons in Treviso.

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The Italian team’s ninth league win of the season should have been even more convincing given how many clear-cut chances they created.

But it proved a case of job done in the end as Rhyno Smith, Gianmarco Lucchesi, Andy Uren, Onisi Ratave, Edoardo Iachizzi and Michele Lamaro scored tries while Tomas Albornoz kicked two conversions and Jacob Umaga one.

The Dragons responded through second-half interception scores from wing Jared Rosser and scrum-half Dane Blacker, with Che Hope also touching down.

Cai Evans and Will Reed added conversions, yet it proved another frustrating away-day for Dai Flanagan’s team.

Benetton looked sharp from the start and it took them just eight minutes to cut open the Dragons’ defence through a brilliantly-executed move.

Smith had gone close to a try two minutes earlier but this time he made no mistake, assisted by wing Leonardo Marin’s midfield burst that saw the fullback touch down on his 50th Benetton appearance.

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Albornoz converted and Benetton’s free-flowing approach driven by Uren threatened further scores during a dominant opening quarter but poor execution meant the Dragons were not punished.

Benetton blew three golden opportunities through poor handling but they had success after adopting a more direct approach, with Lucchesi rounding off a strong line-out drive to make it 12-0.

The Dragons were pedestrian and predictable in comparison and they gifted Benetton a third try before half-time when centre Aneurin Owen’s pass was intercepted by Uren, with the former Bristol No.9 sprinting 60 metres unopposed and Albornoz adding a simple conversion.

It was damage-limitation for the visitors but they gave themselves a glimmer of hope when Albornoz’s pass was intercepted by Rosser, who surged away to score from deep inside his own half.

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But normal service was quickly resumed as Benetton claimed a bonus-point score when Albornoz’s pinpoint kick into space was gathered by Ratave and he applied a powerful finish.

Blacker took the Dragons into double figures when he intercepted another wayward Benetton pass but Iachizzi and Michele Lamaro crossed in the closing stages before Hope’s try as the Dragons fell to an 11th defeat of their URC campaign.

Player of the match

Benetton number eight Toa Halafihi delivered a performance high on work-rate and quality execution, helping to provide his team with an abundance of possession. They scored six tries – and should have had at least three more – and it was Halafihi’s exceptional work in the contact area that kept the Dragons in reverse gear.

Play of the match

Benetton made their intentions clear from the start, looking to attack with pace and width, and their opening try after just eight minutes showcased high-class quality on the ball. Smith and Albornoz were heavily involved but it was Marin’s angle and surge through the Dragons midfield that set up Smith for a superb score on his 50th Benetton appearance.

The scorers

For Benetton
Tries: Smith, Lucchesi, Uren, Ratave, Iachizzi, Lamaro
Cons: Albornoz 2, Umaga

For the Dragons
Tries: Rosser, Blacker, Hope
Cons: Evans, Reed

Teams

Benetton: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Leonardo Marin, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Onisi Ratave, 10 Tomas Albornoz, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Michele Lamaro (captain), 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Riccardo Favretto, 4 Scott Scrafton, 3 Giosué Zilocchi, 2 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 1 Mirco Spagnolo.
Replacements: 16 Bautista Bernasconi, Ivan Nemer, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Edoardo Iachizzi, 21 Alessandro Izekor, 22 Dewaldt Duvenage, 23 Jacob Umaga.

Dragons: 15 Cai Evans, 14 Rio Dyer, 13 Sio Tomkinson, 12 Aneurin Owen, 11 Jared Rosser, 10 Will Reed, 9 Dane Blacker, 8 Taine Basham, 7 Sean Lonsdale, 6 Dan Lydiate (captain), 5 George Nott, 4 Ben Carter, 3 Luke Yendle, 2 James Benjamin, 1 Rodrigo Martinez.
Replacements: 16 Brodie Coghlan, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 Harrison Keddie, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Che Hope, 22 Joe Westwood, 23 Jordan Williams.

Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Fillipo Russo (Italy) and Alex Frasson (Italy)
TMO: Mark Patton (Ireland)

 

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