South African rugby takes another step closer to the northern hemisphere on Saturday when the Bulls meet Benetton in the Rainbow Cup North – South final.
The men from Pretoria break out of Africa and head to Italy for the showpiece at the Stadio di Monigo, as Europe and SA come together at last following a Covid-19 riddled season-and-a-bit.
Jake White’s side secured their place at the top of the South African table with a strong win over nearest challengers, the Sharks, in Durban last weekend.
A quickfire, three-try salvo did the trick as they saw off Springbok captain Siya Kolisi and Co 34-22 at Kings Park.
It left the Bulls with five wins out of six in a pool that also featured a late push from the Stormers and the Lions, who were the only side to inflict defeat on the log leaders.
Benetton earned their final berth in less celebratory circumstances, awarded the points after their final regular season match away to Ospreys was called off thanks to a coronavirus outbreak.
It left the Italians unbeaten from their five fixtures, beating Munster and Glasgow Warriors to the summit.
They had earlier beaten Connacht, won twice against local rivals Zebre and hammered Glasgow.
It’ll be a much-stretched Bulls side they face, too, with the tourists missing their Springbok internationals called up ahead of the Test series against the British & Irish Lions.
They are also having to contend with the opening round of their Currie Cup season on the same day, back on home soil at Loftus Versfeld Stadium against Western Province.
No such complexity for the Italians, who can go full throttle at their final encounter before the start of the brand new United Rugby Championship competition in September.
Coach White makes three changes to his run on side, as Nizaam Carr and Jan Uys come into the pack.
Chris Smith is the replacement at fly-half for Morne Steyn, whose Indian summer continues with his call up to the Springbok squad.
The hosts, who predictably boast a swathe of Italian internationals including Juan Ignacio, Monty Ioane and Sebastian Negri.
Captaining them is an even more familiar face in the form of ex-Stormers scrum-half Dewaldt Duvenage.
Benetton vs Bulls: Rainbow Cup rugby final prediction
Prediction methodology explained: The expected win percentage is based off publicly available odds. For example, if a team’s odds are 2.30, the expected chance of winning is 43%. If the odds are 1.62 the expected chance of winning is 62% and so on. These are accurate at the time of writing but are subject to change. Where there is no value listed, the odds were not available at the time of writing. Score margins use the methodology developed by Rugby Vision or StatsChat.
Rainbow Cup final starting line ups: Benetton vs Bulls
Benetton Starting XV: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage (captain), 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Michele Lamaro, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Corniel Els, 1 Thomas Gallo.
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Filippo Alongi, 19 Irné Herbst, 20 Manuel Zuliani, 21 Marco Barbini, 22 Callum Braley, 23 Ratuva Tavuyara.
Bulls Starting XV: 15 David Kriel, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 Stravino Jacobs, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Marcell Coetzee (captain), 7 Ruan Nortje, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Jan Uys, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Mornay Smith, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Erasmus, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Lizo Gqoboka, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 Muller Uys, 21 Zak Burger, 22 Clinton Swart, 23 Gio Aplon, 24 Robert Hunt, 25 Keagan Johannes, 26 WJ Steenkamp, 27 Dawid Kellerman, 28 Sydney Tobias.