Bulls survive massive scare to advance to semis

rugby08 June 2024 15:50
By:Brenden Nel

The Vodacom Bulls survived a massive scare as they advanced to the semifinal of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship with a close 30-23 win over Italian side Benetton at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

In a game that the Bulls were heavily favoured to win, they ended up leaving the field with a massive sigh of relief after Benetton came close and almost shocked them at their own fortress.

It’s hard to say if Benetton were just supremely good, or the Bulls were just poor on the day but this was nowhere near a classic Bulls performance.

After starting the game in scintillating fashion, where dynamo Kurt-Lee Arendse scored after 25 seconds in what could be the fastest URC try ever, the Bulls looked more than comfortable for most of the first half.

But almost the same time that Arendse left the field with a head knock after colliding with Malakai Fekitoa in the midfield as both went for the ball, the Bulls seemed to slump into a passive stance, and allowed Benetton to dominate the game from there on.

It was hard to explain, but the Bulls were just that second or two off the ball and Benetton tightened up and were buoyed by a magnificent performance by Onisi Ratave as the Fijian put on almost a one-man show to show up the poor Bulls defence.

While the Bulls have scored a number of tries this season, they were once again caught out wide a number of times and Ratave had a field day as he had acres of space and bounced off Bulls defenders with ease.

The former Fijian Drua player, who joined Benetton at the beginning of last season, enjoyed his time in the autumn sun, and the former fireman by trade certainly doused what was left of the Bulls fire as Benetton came back at them constantly.

The Bulls managed to keep their noses in front on the scoreboard, but it was never comfortable.

Eventually the boot of Johan Goosen took over and his 15 points on the day were worth their weight in gold as he squeaked the Bulls home.


As Benetton looked disappointed after the final whistle, the stats told a story seldom seen at Loftus Versfeld.

The Italians had 65 per cent territory and 62 per cent possession, showing just how they took it to the Bulls on the night.

And the stats didn’t lie either about the Bulls defence. They were forced to make 183 tackles to Benetton’s 91, and missed 32 in the process.

Given that either Leinster or Ulster will head to Loftus Versfeld next week, Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White will know his side need to improve significantly if they want to stay alive in the championship.

And the way the game finished seemed too far from how it began.


When the Bulls took the opening kickoff, and Willie le Roux sensed space behind the defence and put in the perfect chip for Arendse, the winger didn’t disappoint to snatch the ball between two Benetton defenders and swerve his way under the posts for a try that had everyone looking at the stadium clock.

Twenty-five seconds was astounding to say the least, and it would have given the Bulls hope that they would repeat the 56-35 win that they had achieved a few weeks ago.

Rhyno Smith got the Italians on the board with a penalty, before a second Bulls surge that started with Harold Vorster running into Tomas Albanoz and carrying him backwards 20 metres, before the recycled ball saw Goosen send an inside pass to Arendse to twist his way over at pace.

Ratave was denied a try just before Arendse’s second when Federico Ruzza was adjudged offside when he charged down Embrose Papier’s kick.

But on 31 minutes the Fijian found enough space on the outside after a quick tap penalty was sent to the wing for him to get his name on the scoreboard.

Ratave caused even more chaos as he bumped off Sebastian de Klerk and David Kriel to open up space and pass inside to Nacho Brex, who knocked on with an open tryline.


At 17-8 at the break, the two flyhalves traded penalties early in the second half before Albonoz found himself with a mismatch, beating Gerhard Steenekamp close to the line to bring Benetton within two points and give the Loftus crowd a massive scare.

The Bulls hit back after Ruan Vermaak grabbed a ricochet off an up and under and Papier put Goosen through a gap.

Goosen made 20 metres before finding Papier again, and the scrumhalf sent the ball wide to Kriel to score.

But when Fekitoa went in at the corner it was 27-23 again and the Bulls were sweating.

Goosen added a penalty and they went into survival mode to stop the Italians for several phases on their tryline, finally winning a penalty that put them into the semifinals.

And for that there will be more relief than anything else around Loftus.


Vodacom Bulls - tries: Kurt-Lee Arendse (2), David Kriel. Conversions: Johan Goosen (3). Penalties: Goosen (3)

Benetton - tries: Onisi Ratave, Tomas Albanoz, Malakai Fekitoa. Conversion: Rhyno Smith. Penalties: Smith (2)