Arendse injured, but Goosen on song as nervy Bulls hang on to reach URC semi-finals

BULLS wing Kurt-Lee Arendse goes over for one of his two tries against Benetton, but left the field with concussion. BackpagePix

BULLS wing Kurt-Lee Arendse goes over for one of his two tries against Benetton, but left the field with concussion. BackpagePix

Published Jun 8, 2024


THE Bulls made heavy weather of it at times, but they are through to the semi-finals of the URC after beating plucky Benetton 30-23 on Saturday in a quarter-final that could easily have gone to extra time.

The Bulls had to hang on for dear life at Loftus Versfeld, but they scraped over the finish line – and to a considerable degree, they can thank Johan Goosen’s accurate boot for the nervy win.

They will now enjoy a home semi-final next weekend against the winners of Saturday evening’s all-Irish quarter-final between Leinster and Ulster in Dublin.

The Bulls went into their quarter-final with the most effective attack in the league this season, having scored the highest number of points (639), including a league-topping 85 tries, but they are still struggling to put together their first 80-minute performance of the season.

Their attack was always going to be tested by the first Italian team to reach the URC play-offs. The men from Treviso had managed this largely due to their impressive discipline, having given away just 150 penalties and six yellow cards across their campaign.

That makes them a useful side in knockout rugby, but they could not have had a worse start when Kurt-Lee Arendse scored after just 24 seconds of the match.

From the kick-off, the deadly wing gathered a perfectly weighted kick by Willie le Roux and finished brilliantly.

But Benetton boast some feisty players from Italy’s successful Six Nations campaign, and they showed their fight when Goosen was stopped centimetres from the line, and the Italian side worked the ball wide from behind their line and ended up in the Bulls’ 22.

From there, they forced a penalty for fullback Rhyno Smith to give them their opening points.

And the visitors seemed to have gone into the lead when their Fijian flyer Onisi Ratave finished strongly in the corner, only for the try to be disallowed because No 5 lock Federico Ruzza had gone offside at a maul when he charged down Embrose Papier’s box-kick.

This hurt them all the more when the Bulls went to the other end of the field, where Arendse bagged his second try when he took a sweet inside pass from Goosen.

Benetton kept fighting and again Ratave scored at the corner flag, and this time the try stood. Smith was unsuccessful with the conversion, but his team were right back in it at 14-8.

Not long before Ratave scored, Arendse was lucky not to be carded for head-to-head contact in his tackle on former All Black Malakai Fekitoa.

But the Springbok star did leave the field for a concussion test and did not return to the pitch, with Sergeal Petersen replacing him – with Bulls boss Jake White saying in a post-match TV interview that Arendse had suffered an injury that is “very bad in his face, which is a massive loss not only for us, but for the Springboks as well when they get into this (Test) campaign”.

Goosen curbed the Benetton momentum with an excellent long-range penalty, but the Italian outfit should have scored just before half-time when Ratave scorched towards his favourite corner flag before passing inside to Alessandro Garbisi, who somehow dropped the ball with the tryline beckoning.

The Benetton coaches’ box almost had a collective heart attack.

Their team did score the first points of the second half after an unfortunate restart for Papier. He spilled the kick-off, and Benetton were awarded a scrum penalty in front of the posts.

Goosen kicked another beauty to push the lead back out to nine points at 20-11, but as the game hit the three-quarter mark, the Loftus faithful were silenced when flyhalf Tomas Albornoz glided through a gap in the defence for a well-taken try.

The crowd came alive shortly after the restart when Goosen broke clean through, and he was well supported by Papier, who sent a try-making pass out to David Kriel.

Benetton refused to quit, though, and when Fekitoa scored to top a fine game for the Tongan centre, it was nervous times for the home team with 10 minutes to go.

But Goosen had the last say off the tee to cap a superb performance.

Points scorers

Bulls 30 – Tries: Kurt-Lee Arendse (2), David Kriel. Conversions: Johan Goosen (3). Penalties: Goosen (3)

Benetton 23 – Tries: Onisi Ratave, Tomas Albornoz, Malakai Fekitoa. Conversion: Rhyno Smith. Penalties: Smith (2)