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VIDEO: 'We are ahead of what people in South Africa are thinking'

SPOTLIGHT: It has been a great season of progress for the Italian club Benetton said one proud head coach Marco Bortolami.

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Regarded as one of the minnows of the United Rugby Championship, the Italian side emerged as one of the great powerhouses of the season.

They knocked over several big teams and secured a quarterfinal for the first time since the then Pro14 in the 2018/19 edition.

A 23-30 defeat to the Bulls spelled the end for their URC season. However, Benetton have exceeded expectations and pushed the Pretoria side until the final whistle.

In their long list of season surprises the side has beaten the Sharks, Lions and Stormers with the Bulls being the only South African scalp that has eluded them.

Speaking to reporters after the match at Loftus, Benetton head coach Bortolami said they are on a mission to change the perspective regarding the Italian side, especially in South Africa.

“The objective of the group is to inspire people back at home [in Italy],” the former Azzurri lock said.

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“We are ahead of what people think is possible for the team.

“We are probably ahead of what people in South Africa are thinking because they didn’t give us a chance against the Bulls and we were so close.

“That is the beauty of the game. If you believe, work hard enough and try to be as good as you can be then you have a chance.

“Those players want to inspire the next generation of Italian players so that they believe that when they come to South Africa, they can win.

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“We want to leave a legacy behind with our performances and we are on the right path.”

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The Italians launched their campaign with a four-match unbeaten run, beating Cardiff and securing a draw against defending champs Munster.

They experienced a mid-season slump, but the side managed to make some big statements and sent a clear warning with wins over Edinburgh in Scotland and the Ospreys.

“No opposition takes us lightly, which is good,” the mentor said.

“It keeps you under a lot of pressure, but it is very pleasing that other teams are taking us seriously.
It is the way we want to be.”

Fairly new to the coaching scene, the 43-year-old Bortolami revealed he has been receiving some sound advice from Bulls Director for Rugby Jake White.

Bortolami took over the head coach role at Benetton in 2021 after being an assistant since 2016.

“I like Jake. He is a very honest person; we have a good relationship and share a lot.

“[On Friday] we shared our game plan to the players. We didn’t share the [Saturday’s] game plan, obviously.

“But he has been great especially for me as young head coach. I asked him a lot of questions and he asked me a lot of questions, which I don’t know why.

“[Bulls] are very lucky to have him here. Last year the Bulls were under a bit of pressure, and he managed to turn the team around.

“They are pushing and it’s not going to be easy against Leinster, but he is a very honest coach and honest person and that is the most important thing.”

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