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'Fooled us into thinking SA Rugby is better': Benetton's dominant Rainbow Cup win a big reality check for SA teams in Europe

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Roberto Bregani/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

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The South African champion Bulls have been outclassed 35-8 by Italian club Benetton in the final of the Rainbow Cup in Treviso in a shock upset that has stunned the rugby world.


The Italians struck early in just five minutes after a wide attack before building a 20-8 lead by halftime. Benetton continued to pile on points in the second, stretching the lead to 30-8 after a try to Lamaro and a penalty goal. Another try added more misery for the Bulls, who had two late tries disallowed.

The final was the first match for a South African club against an international club since the abrupt end of the 2020 Super Rugby competition. The result shocked South African rugby fans and European fans alike, with few expecting the Italian club to win let alone put a massive score on the Bulls.

Before the Rainbow Cup, Benetton completed a winless 16-game season in the Pro14, where the Bulls, Stormers, Lions and Sharks will now compete in the United Rugby Championship.

Concerned about ramifications for the new competition, one fan wrote he ‘slightly worried that these South African sides may not actually strengthen the league as much as we thought’. Another commented that the Bulls were ‘too easy to defend, too predictable and dull’.

An Irish fan wrote that the Bulls ‘were lucky they weren’t playing Leinster or this would be a cricket score’.

Another South African commented ‘if that’s a preview of what’s to come with the British & Irish Lions, we are screwed’. Another felt that ‘international competition is needed’ after the pandemic has ‘fooled us’ into thinking SA Rugby is better than it is.



The South African style of playing for penalties and working for driving mauls came completely unstuck against the high-tempo Italian team.

How the South African teams will fare against the rest of the Pro14 teams is now in question, particularly with differing styles of sides likes powerhouse Leinster who play a high possession attacking game.

During Super Rugby Unlocked last season, former Springbok coach Nick Mallett and Lions head coach Swys de Bruin were heavily critical of the state of the domestic game.

“It’s difficult not to be a little bit negative on the performances of our teams quite frankly,’ Mallett said on a post-game SuperSport show.

“If you compare it with the way New Zealand cracked in with their Aotearoa competition, with teams really embracing the quick-ruck ball and ball-in-hand style they were reasonably high-scoring games, but the defences were excellent and their attacks were great.

“It was rugby that was worth watching.”

Former Springbok assistant De Bruin agreed, deriding how predictable the game was with scrum reset after reset.

“It’s almost like a storybook now… I can see there’s a scrum that will reset and reset again, then the advantage will come, then the next chapter is the penalty,” he said.

“From there the maul starts. Before the maul there is a little meeting with forwards that eats up more time.”



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