Benetton v Bulls: Rainbow Cup Final - teams and predictions
UNCHARTED TERRITORIES: Treviso’s Stadio Monigo will be the ‘Coliseum’ for this historic gladiatorial contest.
There has been the occasional Trans-hemisphere club encounter, but this is the first time there will be an actual trophy up for grabs.
It adds significance to what is already a special occasion.
For Benetton, it is an underdog story come to life, as they host one of the Southern Hemisphere’s most successful franchises – the three-times Super Rugby champion Bulls, who also have a record 24 Currie Cup titles to their credit.
The Italian outfit is the only unbeaten side across both conferences in the competition – a stunning turnaround after their winless 2020-21 Pro14 campaign.
The Bulls finished eight points clear at the top of the South African standings after losing only one of their six Rainbow Cup fixtures, earning their place in the long-awaited first cross-hemisphere clash of the competition.
With the Bulls – along with the Stormers, Sharks and Lions – joining the new United Rugby Championship full-time from next season, all eyes will be on Treviso to see how the sides compare.
Benetton boss Kieran Crowley spoke of the enormity of the occasion and what it means for Italian rugby.
“It is the first time an Italian team has been in a Final,” he said, adding: “It is great for the club and town – given where we have come from the last 18 months [the winless Pro14 run].
“To bounce back and get themselves in this position is a huge credit [to the players].”
For South African fans it will also be their first glimpse of what they can expect when their teams start playing in the Northern Hemisphere from September.
Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White said it will not be the walk in the park most South Africans expect it to be.
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He spoke of the fact that Benetton had beaten Irish province Connacht, who in turn had beaten Munster.
“As it turns out Benetton is playing at home and we had to travel,” White said, adding that the Bulls will have to adapt.
“However, it is fantastic for us to have this opportunity to judge ourselves against a Northern Hemisphere side.
“Maybe they are not as well known as Leinster and Munster, but they are at home and have had the experience of playing against those top European teams.
“These [Benetton] guys have played Munster and Leinster away in Ireland, Glasgow in Scotland.”
He added that 11 of the Benetton players are full Italian internationals, which makes it an even bigger challenge for the Bulls.
The hosts were not ready to claim the favourites tag either.
Benetton captain Dewaldt Duvenage pointed out that during his time with the Stormers and Western Province, between 2008 and 2018, he played in several play-off matches against the Pretoria-based outfit and not once was he on the winning side.
“We know the blue wave is coming,” he told the pre-match virtual media briefing.
“For us it is something of an unknown factor, to see how we will measure up against South African teams.”
He said it would be “fun” and “interesting” to see if their brand of rugby can match or better the brutality of the Bulls.
There certainly is a festival atmosphere in Treviso, building up to the big game.
When Benetton made the Pro14 quarterfinals a couple of years ago, it was a huge occasion and the city in the Veneto region of northern Italy is again embracing the occasion.
“Having made the quarterfinal and lost, we now want to take the next step by not only playing in a Final but winning it,” Duvenhage said.
Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee also spoke about the ’emotion’ of the occasion.
“We have a lot of young players who haven’t been exposed to this environment [playing in a Final abroad],” the skipper said, adding: “However, we do have a lot of players that have played in and won finals.
“My message to the team was to relax, stay calm and enjoy the occasion and the journey.
“We will get into some dark places [in the game], but I am sure the boys will be ready for that.”
Players to watch
For Benetton: The names of several South Africans in the Italian team jumps out – including the skipper and scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage. Then there is the likes of Corniel Els, who played for the Bulls in the Currie Cup Final earlier this year and burly lock Irné Herbst, who will come off the bench. Then there are the regular starters for the Italian national team in the Six Nations – players like Juan Ignacio, Monty Ioane, Paolo Garbisi, Marco Riccioni, Niccolo Cannone, Federico Ruzza and Sebastian Negri.
For the Bulls: The visitors have a few internationals of their own – most notably captain Marcell Coetzee. He’ll get support from other stalwarts like Cornal Hendricks, Ivan van Zyl and Nizaam Carr. On the bench they can rely on the experience of players like Lizo Gqoboka and Gio Aplon.
Head to head:
Benetton will seek to make home advantage count as they have won all four games at this venue since defeat to Cardiff Blues in the Pro14 in March.
They have featured in 20 Italian Championship finals, winning 12 and losing eight, while flyhalf Paolo Garbisi ended the league stage as joint top scorer in the Pro14 conference with 52 points.
The Bulls, for whom Morne Steyn was the South African conference’s top points scorer with 53, make their maiden trip to Italy as the sides meet for the first time.
They have appeared in three Super Rugby Finals between 2007-10 and won them all.
In the Currie Cup, the Bulls appeared in 36 Finals – winning 24 times, with eight defeats and four times they shared it in the Final.
@rugby365com: Benetton by five points.
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage (captain), 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Michele Lamaro, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Corniel Els, 1 Thomas Gallo.
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Filippo Alongi, 19 Irné Herbst, 20 Manuel Zuliani, 21 Marco Barbini, 22 Callum Braley, 23 Ratuva Tavuyara.
Bulls: 15 David Kriel, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 Stravino Jacobs, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Marcell Coetzee (captain), 7 Ruan Nortje, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Jan Uys, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Mornay Smith, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements – from: 16 Schalk Erasmus, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Lizo Gqoboka, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 Muller Uys, 21 Zak Burger, 22 Clinton Swart, 23 Gio Aplon, 24 Robert Hunt, 25 Keagan Johannes, 26 WJ Steenkamp, 27 Dawid Kellerman, 28 Sydney Tobias.
Date: Saturday, June 19
Venue: Stadio Monigo, Treviso
Kick-off: 18.30 Italian and SA time (16.30 GMT)
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace, Eoghan Cross (both Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
* Picture credit: INPHO.ie