Benetton reassert their Pro14 Final Series credentials
PRO14 REPORT: Benetton reasserted their Pro14 Final Series credentials with a hard-fought 25-19 victory against Scarlets as they stole a march on their Conference B rivals.
The visitors led the way on three occasions in Italy thanks to tries from Kieran Hardy and a Johnny McNicholl brace, but they were unable to hold on as Benetton held their nerve.
Tries from Toa Halafihi, Luca Sperandio and Federico Ruzza, plus ten points from the boot of Ian McKinley, proved enough to hand Benetton a vital victory.
Scarlets, who had Marc Jones in the sin bin for the final ten minutes, remain in fifth place in Conference B after the defeat as Benetton move level with Edinburgh in second.
Wayne Pivac’s men took the lead inside 20 minutes with a trademark move from a lineout in their own 22, with Dan Jones racing through an outside gap from second-receiver.
He found Ioan Nicholas outside him, who stepped back in and found Hardy to score, with Jones adding the extras to put the visitors 7-0 ahead at the Stadio Monigo.
Benetton responded on the half-hour through Halafihi, who burrowed over the line after initially coming up short following a powerful scrum, with McKinley converting.
The hosts were not level for long, though, as Scarlets restored their lead on the brink of half-time when Steff Evans found a gap in the defence and offloaded to McNicholl for the score.
With Scarlets 12-7 ahead, Benetton looked to come out the blocks quickly after the restart – and they did just that as Ratuva Tavuyara’s lovely run set up Sperandio for the try.
McKinley was unable to convert, but he put Benetton ahead for the first time on 51 minutes with a penalty, before Scarlets hit back with their third try moment later.
The visitors went wide from their own 22 as Kieron Fonotia kept the Benetton defence guessing, before finding McNicholl who was able to stroll over for his second of the game.
Dewaldt Duvenage then came agonisingly close to scoring for Benetton after a clever kick and chase, only to see his try ruled out by the TMO after he failed to control the ball.
It was quickly forgotten though when Benetton finally grabbed their third try through Ruzza, who caught a cross-kick after McKinley was fouled to cross the whitewash.
McKinley extended the hosts’ lead with a simple penalty with less than ten minutes on the clock after Jones was sent to the bin for a high tackle and Benetton held on for a memorable win.
Tries: Halafihi, Sperandio, Ruzza
Cons: McKinley 2
Pens: McKinley 2
Tries: Hardy, McNicholl 2
Cons: D Jones, Patchell
Benetton: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Ian McKinley (captain), 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Giovanni Pettinelli, 6 Marco Lazzaroni, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Irné Herbst, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Tomas Baravalle, 1 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Engjel Makelara, 17 Derrick Appiah, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Robert Barbieri, 21 Alberto Sgarbi, 22 Edoardo Gori, 23 Antonio Rizzi.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Ioan Nicholas, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Paul Asquith, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Dan Davis, 6 Josh Macleod (captain), 5 Tom Price, 4 Josh Helps, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Phil Price.
Replacements: 16 Dafydd Hughes, 17 Dylan Evans, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Jon Evans, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Steff Hughes.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy), Mark Patton (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)