Venue: Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Treviso
Date: Saturday, June 19
This is just not a game that anyone could have seen coming when the Pro14 Rainbow Cup was initially announced. Picking the Bulls as the South Africa representative wasn’t going too far out on a limb, but picking Benetton over the likes of Leinster, Munster, and even the Scottish sides would seem to be a little crazy. Here we are though, with the Italians rolling undefeated through their games in the Pro14 section of the competition to host this final in their home stadium.
Benetton’s regular season ended with a bit of a whimper as their match against the Ospreys in Wales was called off due to Covid issues, not that the Italians would care too much about that. Prior to this they had handled their business against the likes of Glasgow Warriors in the opening round (46-18), Zebre twice, and then Irish province Connacht. The result was that Benetton finished with 22 points from their five matches, ending the competition two points clear of Munster and three ahead of Glasgow.
The Bulls were just as dominant in their portion of the competition as their only blemish was a 34-33 defeat at the hands of the Lions at Ellis Park. They were impressive in the last two rounds of the comp, downing the Stormers 31-27 in a thrilling clash and then besting the Sharks 34-22 on the final day of the campaign. They finished the South Africa group as the only squad with a positive point differential (+66), having scored 22 tries and allowing a measly 12 (a full seven tries less than anyone else in the comp).
Benetton started the betting as clear second favorites here but the line has come in dramatically over the last few days. This is a team loaded with Italian internationals – including the likes of Juan Ignacio and Monty Ioane – and they are captained by ex-Stormers scrum-half Dewaldt Duvenage. A win for this Benetton team would likely go down as the greatest moment in the history of Italian rugby to date.
The Bulls have many more issues than their opponents when it comes to their player availability for this one. They are missing all their Springboks as the prepare for the Test series against the touring British & Irish Lions that starts this month. In addition, it is the first round of the Currie Cup on the same day, so the team has stretch its resources across three different circumstances.
With Morne Steyn being called up for the ‘Boks this summer he is out of contention for a spot so Chris Smith comes in at stand-off. Other changes to the run on XV see Nizaam Carr and Jan Uys sliding into the pack
The line is 4.5 points and this Benetton side feels like it is on a roll enough to cover that given the stretched and sparse nature of the Bulls squad. I’m not sure I can pick them to win outright, but this game means much more to the Italians than to the South Africans and that might play into the outcome.