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Unbeaten Benetton take aim at next URC scalp

By URC SA
Henry Stowers of Benetton Rugby embraces teammate Jacob Umaga after the team's defeat in the EPCR Challenge Cup Semi-Final match between RC Toulon and Benetton Rugby at Felix Mayol Stadium on April 30, 2023 in Toulon, France. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)

Italian surprise package Benetton Treviso proved that their early season form was no fluke, downing last season’s finalists, the DHL Stormers in an enthralling fourth round of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship to remain the only unbeaten team in this year’s Championship.

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Benetton completed a weekend of rugby beauty for Italian rugby, as Zebre Parma snapped a 28-game losing streak with a monumental win over the Hollywoodbets Sharks in a result that sent shockwaves across the competition.

Benetton though, may be looking ahead as possible playoff contenders after their third victory in four matches, with the outlier being a draw with Champions Munster after victories over Cardiff, the Emirates Lions and now the Stormers.

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Stormers head coach John Dobson on his team’s poor decsison-making against Benetton

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Stormers head coach John Dobson on his team’s poor decsison-making against Benetton

And their confidence is growing, as Italian test lock Federico Ruzza said after the weekend.

“A tough match, we had a very dangerous opponent in front of us, a complete team. We did well, then certainly in some moments we were not perfect and we could have been more precise in some situations,” Ruzza said, adding that the team is filled with confidence at the moment.

Match Summary

1
Penalty Goals
0
2
Tries
3
2
Conversions
1
1
Drop Goals
0
114
Carries
99
2
Line Breaks
4
6
Turnovers Lost
20
5
Turnovers Won
4

“I think there is more confidence in one’s means. I think the fact that we know well what we want to do on the pitch and have learned to deal well with difficult situations also counts. A solid team can be seen when it manages to control these moments. We were good at dealing with the “unforeseen events” during the match.”

Benetton will now travel to Glasgow, who are joint top and a point ahead of them, with Franco Smith’s influence apparent since he left Italy to join up with the Scottish franchise. Ruzzo believes the team’s preparation will have to be perfect to get a win in Glasgow.

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“Glasgow had a great season last year. He reached the Challenge Cup final and is in a very positive moment. All their internationals have returned and playing there is never easy. It will be a match in which great attention will be needed. They are a very competent team, who know how to win games and how to approach them. Therefore we will have to be careful and the level of preparation must be perfect.”

Glasgow added another away win to their tally as they downed Ospreys 31-23 in what turned out to be a very good weekend for Scottish rugby.

Edinburgh stopped Connacht thanks to a late drop goal by Ben Healy as they won an entertaining contest that was easily the game of the weekend.

What was good for Scotland though wasn’t good for Welsh rugby as all four their teams lost to opposition, with Ospreys going down to Glasgow, South African franchises the Vodacom Bulls and Emirates Lions beating Cardiff and Scarlets respectively and Dragons being beaten 33-10 by Leinster on Sunday.

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Team Form

Last 5 Games

4
Wins
2
4
Streak
1
17
Tries Scored
19
18
Points Difference
-19
3/5
First Try
1/5
3/5
First Points
2/5
4/5
Race To 10 Points
1/5

In both the Ospreys and Scarlets games they were leading with five minutes to go before the opposition scored the winning points.

There were mixed results for South African sides as well with the coastal teams losing but the Lions and Bulls coming out on top.

In Cardiff, the Bulls 18-12 victory got them to the top of the URC log, with their scrum sending out a particularly strong message.

Wilco Louw was given man of the match for a superb tighthead performance and their defence held firm to give them their second consecutive win of their four match tour.

The Lions needed a miracle moment to win with a Richard Kriel charge-down of Steff Evans’ clearance opening the door for Henco van Wyk to score the winning try  but the other two SA sides weren’t as lucky.

The Stormers loss to Benetton came as they continue to struggle abroad and have not had a northern hemisphere victory in more than a year now, while the Sharks were so poor that John Plumtree had to issue a public apology on social media after the game.

“When I came in I knew there would be no overnight fix, but what I can promise our fans is that we will do everything we can to get things right and do this jersey proud again,” he said.

“I called for patience in the pre-season and it’s a difficult period right now because no one likes losing. I know that our loyal fans will stick by us and we will make you proud once again.

“A lot of our basic skill sets let us down. Losing the aerial battle alone was key because it allowed them to dominate territory. The yellow and red card did not help the situation.

“On a positive note, we had a couple of nice moments on the attack but didn’t capitalise on the available opportunities. I was proud of the effort around our goal line defence and many young players stood up physically.

“This has been a disappointing tour and we have picked up some key injuries in the same positions, which have been tricky to navigate especially with eight of our Springboks unavailable.

“We could have picked up a win or two, but that didn’t happen. We are looking forward to getting back home now and will reset and continue to work hard to get some momentum going and improve our results at home.”

Ulster beat Munster in the other game of the weekend with the defending champions struggling against their northern neighbours in a tense and exciting derby.

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