Benetton keep play-off hopes alive
PRO14 REPORT: An outstanding Benetton Rugby performance at Rodney Parade kept their Finals Series hopes alive as they secure a 37-25 bonus-point win over Dragons.
A thrilling game saw three magnificent tries, two from Benetton’s Luca Sperandio and Angelo Esposito and one from Dragons’ Rhodri Williams – the Italians too strong overall throughout the 80.
The Leoni signalled their intent to play right from the off in South Wales, first attacking down the left and then touching down a magical try on the right.
There looked to be no immediate danger for the hosts until wing Esposito threw in a burst of pace down the touchline, threw a wonderful offload inside to Federico Ruzza, who in turn chicken-winged one to the waiting Sperandio.
There would be no immediate Dragons response, instead Benetton striking a second as hooker Tomas Baravalle popped up under a maul but over the line on 14 minutes.
Dean Ryan’s men were soon on the board, with Jacob Botica notching a pair of penalties before Benetton fly-half Ian Keatley almost bagged a try himself as he found himself in an ocean of space.
The No.10 did strike a penalty immediately after, but Dragons crucially scored just before half-time as debutant prop Josh Reynolds displayed a frightening turn of pace and popped the ball up to Rhodri Williams.
A third brilliant try would come after the restart, Esposito popping up with the ball on the blindside after a scrum and powering both through and past five defenders on his way to the line.
At 24-13 up Benetton looked to control proceedings and were aided when Harrison Keddie saw yellow, Keatley adding another three points minutes later.
Kieran Crowley’s men turned the screw again on 67 minutes as Keatley sank a superb penalty from the touchline, but Dragons cut the lead to ten points with ten minutes left to play as Esposito chose to offload close to his line – Will Talbot-Davies easily gathering and touching down.
But there was more to come in the closing stages for the Leoni, an unstoppable driving maul seeing that man again – Hame Faiva – wrap things up with his sixth of the season.
Player of the Match – Ian Keatley
Esposito was superb in creating the first try and scoring Benetton’s third, but it was skipper Keatley who conducted the show in Newport.
17 points with the boot and looking the calmest man in South Wales throughout the match, the Irishman wins Player of the Match.
Tries: Williams, Talbot-Davies, Dee
Cons: Botica, Robson
Pens: Botica 2
Tries: Esposito 2, Baravalle, Faiva
Cons: Keatley 4
Pens: Keatley 3
Dragons: 15 Will Talbot-Davies, 14 Jared Rosser, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Jacob Botica, 9 Rhodri Williams (captain), 8 Ollie Griffiths, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Harrison Keddie, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Ellis Shipp, 1 Josh Reynolds,
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Conor Maguire, 18 Chris Coleman, 19 Brandon Nansen, 20 Lewis Evans, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Arwel Robson, 23 Connor Edwards.
Benetton: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Ian Keatley (captain), 9 Charly Trussardi, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Federico Ruzza, 6 Michele Lamaro, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Irné Herbst, 3 Filippo Alongi, 2 Tomas Baravalle, 1 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Giuseppe Di Stefano, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Luca Petrozzi, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Joaquin Riera.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse (Wales), Joy Neville (Ireland)
TMO: Leo Colgan