South Africa vs Ireland is the order of the weekend in the United Rugby Championship semi-finals.
First up Jake White’s Blue Bulls arrive in Dublin as rank outsiders against Champions Cup giants Leinster. Whilst the bookies rightly have Leinster has significant favourites following their demolition job of Glasgow in the quarterfinals.
The men from Pretoria won’t be short of confidence however as they put a Springbok laden Sharks side to the sword in their quarterfinal match-up.
Thus, once again the age-old questions of being undercooked and unable to handle the physicality plague Leinster.
Having come agonisingly close to another European Champions Cup title a fortnight ago only to be undone with thirty seconds left on the clock, it is inconceivable that Leo Cullen’s side could leave the season empty handed.
As such Cullen and senior coach Stuart Lancaster have taken no short cuts in their preparation and have named a star laden and experienced side for the fixture.
In the centres the likely Irish centre combination of Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose start. This means that the impressive Ciaran Frawley joins Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton and Luke McGrath as the backline cover on the bench.
Following an impressive couple of showings since returning from injury Jordan Larmour gets the start on the right wing whilst Jimmy O’Brien shifts to fullback due to Hugo Keenan picking up an injury.
In the pack the injury to Ronan Kelleher means that Dan Sheehan gets the start with the experience Sean Cronin comes onto the bench for what could be his last game for Leinster having his intention to retire at the end of the season.
For the Bulls, Jake White has named an unchanged with last week’s hero Chris Smith starting ahead of the immensely experienced Morne Steyn.
Speaking of experience, Bismarck Du Plessis joins Steyn on the bench however you can be sure that the Springbok legend will make his presence felt when called upon.
Whilst on paper Leinster appear superior in most areas, the battle of the backrows is finely poised and should lead to a great spectacle.
For Leinster, European player of the year Josh van der Flier is joined by his Irish international colleagues Caelen Doris and Jack Conan to form a formidable trio.
The Bulls however will have no fear in this department with Springboks Marcell Coetzee and Arno Botha being joined by the highly impressive Elrigh Louw.
For the Bulls trio the clash with Leinster is a real audition and opportunity to force their way back into Springbok consideration. As has always been the case South Africa is spoilt for choice in the backrow.
However a serious showing against the potential Irish starting backrow will go a long way towards forcing their way in Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber’s plans.
Leinster: Jimmy O’Brien; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Rory O’Loughlin; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong; Joe McCarthy, James Ryan (c), Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.
Replacements: Seán Cronin, Cian Healy, Michael Ala’alatoa, Ross Molony, Ryan Baird, Luke McGrath, Johnny Sexton, Ciarán Frawley.
Vodacom Bulls: Canan Moodie; David Kriel, Cornal Hendricks, Harold Vorster, Madosh Tambwe; Chris Smith, Zak Burger; Gerhard Steenekamp, Johan Grobbelaar, Mornay Smith; Walt Steenkamp, Ruan Nortje; Marcell Coetzee (c), Arno Botha, Elrigh Louw.
Replacements: Bismarck du Plessis, Simphiwe Matanzima, Robert Hunt, Janko Swanepoel, WJ Steenkamp; Embrose Papier, Morne Steyn, Kurt-Lee Arendse.
Referee: Andrea Piardi (FIR)
Venue: Royal Dublin Showground
Kick-Off: Friday June 10th – 19.45 local time