JOHANNESBURG – Benetton Rugby beat the Southern Kings 36-35 in their Pro14 match at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, in Port Elizabeth, on Saturday.
The Kings started slowly and soon found themselves 12 points down inside the first 10 minutes, and though they briefly worked their way into a two-point advantage just after the quarter-hour mark – the tourists always looked in control of the contest.
To their credit, the Kings persisted and kept the encounter interesting but it was a controlled display from Benetton which secured the narrowest of victories.
Benetton opened the scoring in the third minute from a driving mall following a lineout on the Kings five metre line. Hooker Tomas Baravalle crashed over and flyhalf Marty Banks missed the conversion as the visitors led 5-0.
The Italians were over the line again in the sixth minute as flank Marco Lazzaroni dotted down after a number of phases in the Kings 22 left the hosts’ defence stretched. Banks this time slotted the conversion as Benetton led 12-0 after just seven minutes.
The Kings worked their way back into the contest after a number of drives on the Benetton line were held up, as the ball was grubbered out to the wing as Luzuko Vulindlu gathered and scored. Kings number 10 Kurt Coleman nailed the conversion to make it 12-7.
The Kings hit the lead as scrumhalf Godlen Masimla was in good position to find a gap in front of the Benetton line to dive over under the posts following a breathtaking run from fullback Masixole Banda set up the move. Coleman nudged over the conversion to put his side 14-12 ahead.
On the 20 minute mark, Benetton were once again successful from an attacking lineout from five metres with the final ball popping out to Banks near the touchline as he scored in the corner. Banks made the difficult conversion from his own try to put his side back into the lead at 19-14 up after 20 minutes.
Just short of the half-hour mark, Benetton worked through a number of phases and the Kings defence again cracked under the pressure as centre Tommaso Iannone darted through a gap for a five-pointer. Banks again was on target as his side were once more out to a 12-point lead at 26-14 up.
With just over five minutes left in the first half, Coleman was stretchered off after picking up a knee injury during a collision and Martin du Toit came on in his place.
The Kings were soon over for a try again as Ruaan Lerm scored from yet another successful driving maul in the first period. Banda converted the try from the touchline to make it 26-21.
Benetton were first to score in the second period as flank Braam Steyn barged his way over from close range, with Banks adding the extra two for a 33-21 scoreline.
The Kings were awarded a penalty try in the 58th minute, when Benetton lock Federico Ruzza was adjudged to have collapsed a maul on his tryline receiving a yellow card and 10 minutes in the sin-bin.
It meant the Kings had pulled within four of the visitors with the score at 33-28.
Despite being a man down, Benetton would be next to score through a penalty from Banks to make it 36-28 in the 65th minute.
The Kings struck back with a Berton Klaasen try in the 73rd minute, with Banda slotting the conversion to make it a one-point game at 36-35 to Benetton.
With under five minutes remaining, Kings replacement hooker Tango Balekile received a yellow card for a high tackle reducing the hosts to 14-men for the remainder of the match.
There would be no further change in score, as Benetton held on for the hard-earned win.
Kings 35 (21): Tries: Luzuko Vulindlu, Godlen Masiml, Ruaan Lerm, penalty try, Berton Klaasen Conversions: Kurt Coleman (2), Masixole Banda (2), penalty try
Benetton 36 (26): Tries: Tomas Baravalle, Marco Lazzaroni, Marty Banks, Tommaso Iannone, Braam Steyn. Conversions: Banks (4). Penalty: Banks
African News Agency