Vodacom Bulls brave for battle-ready Benetton

Vodacom Bulls brave for battle-ready Benetton

Having worked over the Hollywoodbets Sharks last week to clinch their first SA Shield, the Vodacom Bulls must now prove they can knock out play-off-calibre opponents with a late flurry when they square up against Benetton on the Highveld.

It's fight week in Pretoria and success for the hosts of Saturday's BKT URC quarter-final will see the crowd return for next week's semi-final at Loftus Versfeld, where Jake White’s charges have only once been beaten in the league this season.

The race to the last eight was a fight for Benetton and their battle included a league defeat against the Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria.

The Italian club knows what to expect and they will take massive belief from how they fought back in the second half.

According to the bookies, the Vodacom Bulls are favourites to stop Benetton and advance to a sumptuous final-four showdown against one of Leinster or Ulster next week, but in matches against Leinster (a 47-14 reverse in Dublin) and Benetton (a 56-35 win at Loftus) the Highveld heavyweights were guilty of starting strong and then fading in the second half, a trend evident in five of their first seven matches of the 2023/24 campaign.

A run of 80-minute performances is what will be required from the Vodacom Bulls to complement the SA Shield with their first BKT URC title. Veteran loose forward Nizaam Carr, who this week penned an extension with the Vodacom Bulls until 2027, says South Africa's top-ranked team will rise to the challenge.

"It's something that we've spoken about a few times, we know we need to pull tighter," Carr said of a tendency for the Vodacom Bulls to take their foot off the gas.

"In a perfect world, we keep the opposition out and don't let them score tries, especially towards the back end of a game.

"It is a work-on for us and we are focused on that. Benetton scored five tries against us a few weeks ago and they are a dangerous side on attack - if we can keep them out, it’ll be a good day for us.

"We’d like to pull off the perfect game but there are so many factors you have to take into consideration… if set-pieces are not functioning, or the opposition is attacking and we’re under pressure for multiple phases.

"In my experience coming off the bench, the pace of the game is so much faster and the guys who are on the field have got their second wind. The quicker you can get into the game, that's when you can have the biggest impact.

"What has been working for us in training is absorbing a lot of pressure, and as soon as we get turnovers we have the personnel to spread the ball wide, and the interplay is really good."

The Vodacom Bulls boast the BKT URC's best attack, having scored a league-leading 85 tries and 639 points. Carr emphasised that the formula producing this output won't change in the play-offs as they look to improve on their runners-up finish in the 2021/22 campaign.

What will give Benetton hope, outside of having scored five tries against the Vodacom Bulls in their most recent visit to Pretoria, the Bulls conceded 54 tries in 18 league matches. 

"Any opportunity we get where it’s kickable, we need to take the points. It's knockout rugby and it's really important to take the points from any 22m entries,” he said.

"But we don’t want to play not to lose, we want to play to win, and that’s the mindset we have. We also want to go out there and express ourselves.

“Winning the SA Shield, it definitely boosted the mood in the camp, but the ultimate goal for us is going all the way. Being top of the SA conference was nice, but lifting the URC trophy and bringing silverware home will be way better."

Though the Vodacom Bulls are delighted to have secured the comfort of home for the BKT URC play-offs, Springbok finisher Canan Moodie knows they’re in for a fight against Benetton.

Marco Bortolami’s troops finished the regular season with a flourish as they cruised to a 31-6 triumph over Edinburgh in Treviso.

"We’re getting a lot of confidence playing in front of a packed Loftus crowd," Moodie said. 

"It’s nice being at home, and not having to travel, but we know the job’s far from done and we're not going to take Benetton lightly - they’re on the long road (to the final) and need to fight in every game."

Latest News