Benetton provide a Gloucester spy-glass for Sharks

ELI Snyman of Benetton. Backpagepix

ELI Snyman of Benetton. Backpagepix

Published May 8, 2024


Leighton Koopman

A HURTING Benetton, boasting a handful of South Africans and desperately holding onto a top-eight finish, will test the resolve and commitment of the Sharks in a URC clash this weekend.

The Durban side are riding a wave of European Challenge Cup success and will bank on that momentum when they face the Italian outfit, whose campaign in Europe ended after falling to Gloucester in the semi-finals.

BENETTON’s Rhyno Smith. Backpagepix

The Sharks, in 13th place, face the English Premiership club later this month in the Challenge Cup final, and could kill two birds with one stone by analysing this past weekend’s clash Benetton were involved in.

It could prepare them for what the Treviso-based side will possibly throw at them on Saturday (kick-off 4.05pm) and, at the same time, gain a bit of insight into what can be expected from Gloucester in the final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on May 24.

With Benetton out of European contention, it will allow them to set their sights fully on competing for a top-eight spot in the URC. Although they are currently eighth, Durban on Saturday and the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld a week later could spell the end of their aspirations to reach the knockouts should they lose.

They will be desperate to win at least one of their clashes on this South African tour to stay in the hunt for the top eight. A play-off spot will also mean Champions Cup rugby next season.

That’s why it will be important to hit their straps this weekend against a resurgent Sharks, who will look to continue their winning momentum at home. The home team have won only four of their 15 URC clashes this term, but can still be party-poopers to a handful of sides.

Benetton arrived in Durban yesterday with a 32-man squad and players like the three South Africans in Eli Snyman, co-captain and veteran scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage, and utility back Rhyno Smith, alongside prop Simone Ferrari, loose forwards Sebastian Negri and Alessandro Izekor, and flyhalf Jacob Umaga will be tasked to take the lead.

Smith is a former Sharks player and will look forward to returning to Durban, while Duvenage tormented the coastal side for several years as a Stormers scrumhalf before he moved overseas.

A big blow to the side and their chances of winning is the absence of internationals like centre Malakai Fekitoa, prop Thomas Gallo, lock Marco Lazzaroni and veteran front-rower Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.

They used the rolling maul effectively against Gloucester, and it could be a handy weapon in Durban on Saturday. The Sharks haven’t been that effective in their rolling maul defence, and Benetton will probably look to this route to get over the try line.

And the speed of Smith and winger Onisi Ratave could also pose some questions to their hosts’ defensive line.

Challenges against difficult opponents are what Sharks coach John Plumtree will want for his team at this stage, so that they can find solutions on-field that can best prepare them for the Gloucester clash.

The Italian side are fighting for survival in the URC and the next two games could make or break their season. It’s a challenge the home team will welcome as they look to build momentum over the next two weekends of home games.