Johannesburg — A much more convincing second half performance, which kept Benetton scoreless in regulation time, while they clocked-in 22 points; ensured the Emirates Lions finished their final home game of the United Rugby Championship (URC) with victory, even if it was not the most impressive of triumphs.
The Lions were expected to start hard and fast against the Italian team at Emirates Airline Park, and while they managed to take an early lead, they also seemingly lost their way as the first half continued. Although Ruben Schoeman opened the scoring for the Joburgers, it was Benetton who grew in confidence as the first stanza progressed.
It was largely due to the inaccuracy of the hosts, which allowed Benneton to take the lead by the 25th minute.
The Lions had shown some enterprise before this, but a cluster of fundamental errors; silly mistakes; the inability to make good at attacking line-outs; and failing to protect their breakdown saw a quick tap by fullback Rhyno Smith sneak in a try and then converted for a 10-8 lead.
Centre Filippo Drago then waltzed in for their second moments later while playing against 14 men after Jordan Hendrikse was sanctioned at the Smith score, with the hosts looking not entirely convinced that they wanted to play a game of early afternoon rugby.
There were also a handful of moments where their runners isolated themselves for easy turnovers, while their game management suffered yet again. Scrumhalf Morne van den Berg was guilty of one such lapse in concentration deep into the first half when he took a tap-and-go, only to find himself alone in a tackle and swamped by defending Benetton players.
He did redeem himself in the last action of the half, once again opting for a quick tap but this time it was a much more viable option and much, much closer to the whitewash. Trailing by 14 points at 40th minute and before that score, the Lions were level by the 41st as skipper Burger Odendaal linked up with speedster Edwill van der Merwe, who ran untouched to dot down, opening the scoring in the second half.
A yellow card for flanker Manuel Zuliani with 30 minutes to go changed the bearing of the encounter, the Lions taking a 27-22 lead with a Stean Pienaar try. No doubt the effects of lung-busting altitude had also caught up with the Italian outfit as the Lions took control of the match through a try and penalty from Hendrikse before the final 10 minutes of the clash.
Yes, the Lions did enough to claim the victory, but it was nevertheless an exercise in frustration, made harder by a Benetton side that never accepted defeat, and which had the final say in the match as Lorenzo Cannone and Co mauled over in the 84the minute to bring the game to a close.
The Lions will now wait until late May to play their final URC match against the Dragons in Wales.
Emirates Lions (15) 37: Tries: Schoeman, Van den Berg, Van der Merwe, Pienaar, Hendrikse; Conversions: Hendrikse (3); Penalties: Hendrikse (2); Yellow Card: Hendrikse
Benetton (22) 29: Tries: Smith (2), Drago, Cannone; Conversions: Smith (3); Drop Goal: Albornoz; Yellow Card: Zuliani