Bulls must barge through Benetton in URC quarter-final at Loftus Versfeld

‘His skill-set and accuracy at the breakdown – perhaps – gives us horses for courses,’ Bulls coach Jake White said about Nizaam Carr. Photo: BackpagePix

‘His skill-set and accuracy at the breakdown – perhaps – gives us horses for courses,’ Bulls coach Jake White said about Nizaam Carr. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Jun 8, 2024


The trial runs are over, and now it’s time for the Bulls to deliver.

After warming up for the United Rugby Championship play-offs by beating the Sharks last week, it’s knockout rugby for the Pretoria side this afternoon when they face Benetton at Loftus Versfeld (3.30pm kick-off).

And whereas last week’s clash at Kings Park was more about getting some rust out of their game after a bye, today’s encounter is win-or-bust for Jake White’s team.

Having reached the URC final in 2022, they came up short at the quarter-final stage against the Stormers in Cape Town last season, and will be determined to avoid another defeat in the last-eight – especially as they have a home semi-final waiting for them next weekend.

But while many Bulls supporters may feel that Benetton are easy-beats, it is exactly the kind of mindset that the hosts must prevent from settling into the squad.

The danger signs were flashing clearly at Loftus a few weeks ago when Benetton scored five tries in a 56-35 defeat.

They have grizzled Italian internationals in captain Michele Lamaro, Thomas Gallo and Simone Ferrari in their pack, while the likes of Tommaso Menoncello, Malakai Fekitoa, Ignacio Brex and South African fullback Rhyno Smith are lethal on attack.

The Bulls are also missing two vital cogs in their make-up, with Springboks Canan Moodie and Marco van Staden ruled out through injuries.

White said yesterday that Moodie had a fractured index finger, which has made him a doubtful starter in the July Tests against Ireland as well as he has had an operation.

“It is one of those where they will only be able to see how serious it is once they open him up. It is his index finger (that is fractured) which influences his passing, on top of his pinkie a few weeks ago which he has strapped before,” the Bulls director of rugby said.

“I am not sure if it will be one of those that you can strap in a couple of weeks and play but he remains unavailable this week and the next.

“From the Boks point of view, I hope it is not that serious so that he is ready for the Irish series.”

Van Staden has hurt his medial knee ligaments again, but may even return for the semi-final if needed, with White saying that he could have played against Benetton if it had been the last game of the season.

The absence of Van Staden and Moodie sees Nizaam Carr stepping in at openside flank, while Sebastian de Klerk slots in at right wing.

Carr has been a classy No 8 for most of his career, but has fulfilled the No 6 role for the Bulls often enough – and has even started a Springbok Test in that position.

The 33-year-old will have a vital role to play in slowing down Benetton’s possession on the ground, while his excellent running lines will also add variety to the Bulls attack.

“He hasn’t given away penalties at the breakdown, and has been accurate and better at openside flanker,” White said about Carr.

“His skill-set and accuracy at the breakdown – perhaps – gives us horses for courses without having to make that decision.”

— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) June 7, 2024

The Bulls are clear favourites, but they have been warned. Benetton will try to make it as scrappy as possible, and look to disrupt the hosts’ rhythm on attack and keep the likes of Willie le Roux and Kurt-Lee Arendse out of the game.

So, captain Ruan Nortjé, Elrigh Louw, Cameron Hanekom and the rest of the Bulls forwards will have to dominate physically, while props Gerhard Steenekamp and Wilco Louw must put the heat on in the scrums.

Teams For Loftus Versfeld

Bulls: 15 Willie le Roux 14 Sebastian de Klerk 13 David Kriel 12 Harold Vorster 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse 10 Johan Goosen 9 Embrose Papier 8 Cameron Hanekom 7 Elrigh Louw 6 Nizaam Carr 5 Ruan Nortjé (captain) 4 Ruan Vermaak 3 Wilco Louw 2 Johan Grobbelaar 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.

Bench: 16 Akker van der Merwe 17 Simphiwe Matanzima 18 Francois Klopper 19 Reinhardt Ludwig 20 Jannes Kirsten 21 Keagan Johannes 22 Chris Smith 23 Sergeal Petersen.

Benetton: 15 Rhyno Smith 14 Tommaso Menoncello 13 Malakai Fekitoa 12 Ignacio Brex 11 Onisi Ratave 10 Tomas Albornoz 9 Andy Uren 8 Toa Halafihi 7 Michele Lamaro (captain) 6 Alessandro Izekor 5 Federico Ruzza 4 Edoardo Iachizzi 3 Simone Ferrari 2 Bautista Bernasconi 1 Thomas Gallo.

Bench: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi 17 Mirco Spagnolo 18 Giosuè Zilocchi 19 Eli Snyman 20 Niccolò Cannone 21 Lorenzo Cannone 22 Alessandro Garbisi 23 Jacob Umaga.