Former Junior Springbok flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse contributed 17 points and scored one of his team’s five tries, while Benetton’s South African-born fullback Rhyno Smith scored two of their three five-pointers and kicked three conversions for a 16-point haul.
Although they won comfortably in the end, it wasn’t plain sailing for Ivan van Rooyen’s team, who failed to convert some early opportunities to score, while allowing Benetton to take control of the match in the second quarter.
However, four tries in 20 minutes shook the visitors as the Emirates Lions accelerated in the second half as they grabbed their seventh victory of the season.
The hosts dominated territory and possession in the first half, but over-eagerness on attack cost them dearly. They had the Italians at sixes and sevens a number of times, but unfortunately failed to capitalise.
Ruben Schoeman (lock) went over from an attacking lineout after a good break by Francke Horn in the 14th minute, and added to an earlier penalty goal by Hendrikse, the hosts took an 8-0 lead.
It was short-lived though, as Benetton scored 22 points without answer with the men from Johannesburg looking flat-footed.
Tomas Albornoz (flyhalf) got them on the board with a well-taken drop-goal in the 17th minute, after which the Italians finished all three of their try-scoring opportunities in the final 15 minutes of the first half by playing with confidence and building momentum by dominating the collisions.
Smith crossed twice and also slotted two conversions, while centre Filippo Drago also got a five-pointer with Hendrikse in the sin-bin for cynical play.
The Emirates Lions snuck in a second try on the stroke of half-time when Morne van den Berg (scrumhalf) went over from a quick-tap penalty, with Hendrikse’s conversion closing the gap to seven points at the break at 22-15.
A superb try from the restart by Edwill van der Merwe, who combined very well with his captain, Burger Odendaal, ensured the Emirates Lions started the second half with good momentum. Hendrikse’s conversion levelled the scores with 39 minutes to go.
Benetton’s discipline started slipping, and after Manuel Zuliani (flank) was yellow carded, the Emirates Lions struck with two more tries, by Stean Pienaar (wing) and Hendrikse, to take control of the match.
Hendrikse added another penalty goal after which the game stalled a bit, but in the end the Emirates Lions managed to keep their visitors scoreless for almost the entire second half before Lorenzo Cannone (No 8) got a consolation try for Benetton in injury time.
Emirates Lions 37 (15) – Tries: Ruben Schoeman, Morne van den Berg, Edwill van der Merwe, Stean Pienaar, Jordan Hendrikse. Conversions: Hendrikse (3). Penalty goals: Hendrikse (2).
Benetton 29 (22) – Tries: Rhyno Smith (2), Filippo Drago, Lorenzo Cannone. Conversions: Smith (3). Drop goal: Tomas Albornoz.