View from the South Terrace: Benetton

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A rainy Saturday afternoon in Treviso does not exactly scream “the glamour of European rugby”, but it was there at the Stadio Communale di Monigo that Cardiff’s 2022/23 Challenge Cup campaign came to an end.

Some losses sting because the performance levels aren’t good enough, others sting because they should have been wins, but sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and accept you were beaten by the better side on the day. That was the overwhelming feeling at full-time against Benetton.

Against Sale last week the task was more straight-forward in many ways. A kick-heavy, hard carrying direct team turned up and Cardiff’s players were able to get to an emotional level that matched the English side, adding a bit of spice to our own attacking game that allowed us to cut through or get around their defence.

It’s something this group have done well over the last few years; Sharks away, Stormers home, Leinster home, Pau and Lyon a couple of times. The Blue and Blacks can come up against big packs with route one game plans and match them enough to allow our offensive talents to win the game.

In Treviso though, despite the weather, Benetton were keen to move the ball more. Duvenage and Umaga at half-back engaged the defence and brought runners into play at pace, Smith injected dynamism from full-back, while an athletic pack containing Italian internationals Cannone, Ruzza, Negri and Lamaro continually threatened a Cardiff defence that can be narrowed easily.

On the flip side, the Blue and Blacks struggled to really get going in attack. Despite a good kick and chade game offering up field position, static carrying and failing to challenge the gain line resulted in regularly going through slow and laboured attacking sets. Only two line breaks were made by the away side, one of those being Mason Grady’s moment of individual brilliance for his try.

There was certainly no lack of effort or endeavour from Cardiff, but ultimately to win European quarter-finals, specifically away from home, that has to be backed up with enough quality to get over the line, and on the day it was Benetton who had that.

While Saturday may have spelled the end of the Challenge Cup run though, the fatal blow probably took place back in January when we lost away at Brive. That poor performance cost a top seeding and the opportunity to play home games through the knockout stages, which may well have given the boost and rub of the refereeing green needed to make a good go at a third triumph in this competition.

Attention now turns back to the United Rugby Championship with two massive games in two weeks as the Blue and Blacks travel to Connacht before facing the Ospreys at Judgement Day knowing that two wins could see us sneak into the play-offs for the first time.

The Last Dance is off to Galway…

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