Scenes of unbridled joy greeted the 35-8 rout of South Africa's Bulls in Treviso as Kieran Crowley bows out at Benetton in glorious fashion. Now he hopes to work magic on Italy

Benetton romp to Rainbow Cup victory

Benetton completed a remarkable story on Saturday, thrashing the Bulls 35-8 to win the Guinness Pro14 Rainbow Cup in Treviso. Their triumph came just two months after they finished bottom of the Guinness Pro14 with 15 defeats and one Covid cancellation.

So wretched was their Pro14 form that head coach Kieran Crowley organised a ritual burning of all their notes from the campaign. It symbolised a fresh start for the Italian franchise and what a result as they took the Rainbow Cup – an add-on competition involving South Africa’s four ‘super’ teams – by storm.

On a sweltering day at their home ground in Treviso, Benetton outscored their fancied visitors five tries to one to mark the biggest match in Italian club history in amazing fashion.

“Our defence was absolutely outstanding and we were able to move the ball and score some good tries,” said Crowley, who will now take charge of Italy’s national team after five seasons at Benetton. “It’s one of the best performances I’ve been involved in here.

Benetton romp to Rainbow Cup victory

Replacement Marco Barbini (middle) roars in triumph after the astonishingly one-sided final (Inpho)

“Our plan on our scrum ball was to get the ball in and out (quickly) and we didn’t make a lot of mistakes to give them put-ins. So the Bulls couldn’t really dominate in that area like they have in the past. I thought our lineout drive defence was pretty damn good as well.”

Roared on by a restricted but noisy crowd of 1,250, Benetton flew out of the blocks. Wing Monty Ioane scored after five minutes after good hands by Sebastian Negri and Jayden Hayward. Paolo Garbisi added a penalty and made a try-saving tackle on Marco Jansen van Vuren, but Madosh Tambwe dotted down from a ruck and Chris Smith landed a penalty from halfway to square things at 8-8 after half an hour.

The final had been built up as a David v Goliath battle, with the Bulls – even without their Springboks – clear favourites having won both the Currie Cup and Super Rugby Unlocked this year. But the South Africans were stunned by the ferocity of Benetton’s challenge and they produced a performance of rare ineptitude. A slippery ball in the heat and humidity didn’t help but couldn’t account for the number of times they spilled the ball in contact.

Their error-strewn display was illustrated by Benetton’s second try. Garbisi’s restart sailed over Marcell Coetzee’s head to give Bulls a lineout five metres from their line. The ball was tapped back loosely, scrum-half Ivan van Zyl fumbled the ball and Benetton hooker Corniel Els – a former Bulls academy player – touched down.

No 8 Coetzee, omitted from the Springboks squad to face the British & Irish Lions, could yet get a call if Duane Vermeulen fails to recover in time after ankle surgery. Coetzee certainly did himself no favours with this performance at Stadio Comunale Di Monigo.

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The match was effectively decided by key moments either side of half-time. First, Els was tackled high by Stravino Jacobs as he bore down on the line and, after a long TMO review, referee Frank Murphy correctly awarded a penalty try and sent wing Jacobs to the bin.

Two minutes after the break, Garbisi’s cross-kick bounced perfectly for Ioane and he offloaded for the excellent Michele Lamaro to score. Garbisi converted and Benetton led 27-8.

Michele Lamaro scores

Flanker Michele Lamaro scores just after half-time to inflict more misery on the shellshocked Bulls (Inpho)

An interesting side issue, particularly given the upcoming Lions series, is the more lenient application of the high-tackle framework in the southern hemisphere. Bulls DoR Jake White put this into focus in his post-match interview with his thoughts on the penalty try.

“Back home we would probably have got a knock-on (by Els as he tried to score), head for the tunnel, 13-8 down,” White said.

“All of a sudden you get a yellow card and you’re 20-8 down. He (Jacobs) was holding him around the neck; I’m not sure how you’re going to stop him from scoring unless you grab him around the neck. But when you play here that’s how they interpret it.”

Benetton romp to Rainbow Cup victory

Edoardo Padovani’s try proved the final score at the throbbing Stadio Comunale Di Monigo (Inpho)

The World Cup-winning coach had no truck with the result, accepting that his team had been beaten by the better side. “A lot of our guys are seeing for the first time what northern hemisphere rugby is like. As I said to them, put it in the memory bank and remember there are no easy games. When you get on the plane you have to realise you’ve got a job to do.”

Garbisi extended the lead after a neck roll by Cornal Hendricks before Edoardo Padovani completed the scoring after being put in by Garbisi on the short side. Garbisi, Italy’s 21-year-old fly-half, had a superb game and was awarded Man of the Match. “He’s starting to get a more rounded game,” said Crowley. “He’s someone you can build a team around.”

Paolo Garbisi

Stand-off Paolo Garbisi twists the knife by kicking a conversion (Inpho)

Crowley added that he hoped the victory could be “a line in the sand” for Italian rugby after so many years of struggle. He departs Benetton with defence coach Marius Goosen while players making their exit include full-back Hayward and tighthead Marco Riccioni, who is joining newly promoted Saracens.

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It was fantastic to see ecstatic Benetton players bouncing up and down at the end. The result will serve as a reminder that the South African franchises will not have everything their way when they compete in the rebranded United Rugby Championship next season.

Toa Halafihi and Monty Ioane

Job done: Toa Halafihi and Monty Ioane celebrate on a day to remember for Italian rugby (Inpho)

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