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Three takeaways from the URC semi-finals as Glasgow and Bulls set up Loftus final

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Monday Jun 17, 2024

So it is, the more unlikely option (by the bookies odds) of a Vodacom Bulls vs Glasgow Warriors BKT URC final is confirmed.

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There can be no argument that the two better teams won on the day as the unpredictability of the ever more fascinating URC is guaranteed to have it’s third different champion in it’s third season.

Last season, Munster went on a magical carpet ride all the way to the title at the DHL Stadium in Cape Town. A year prior to that and it was the Stormers who were gifted a home final by the Bulls’ first semi-final victory over Leinster.

Thus, the question now is, can the Warriors mimic Munster’s heroics from a previous season, or will Jake White’s Bulls put their final defeat two seasons ago to rest?

Before all of that, here are three key takeaways from the semi-finals.

Brilliant Bulls Overpower Leinster
If one were to ask a neutral which pack would come out on top between an all-Irish international Leinster eight or an ultra-exciting but inexperienced Bulls collective, you would suspect 8 out of 10 would select the former. What transpired, Caelen Doris aside, was utter domination on the part of the South African side. Spearheaded by the dynamic duo of Elrigh Louw and Cameron Hanekom, the Bulls utilised their athletic pack to great effect. Finding mismatches in the wider channel, Louw and Hanekom routinely made yards against the Leinster backs. Landing pinpoint crossfield kicks on the left-hand touchline where Louw simply dominated Jordan Larmour and Jimmy O’Brien was a masterstroke by the Bulls. Hanekom, who had a monstrous showing, highlighted why many believe he is a future Springbok star, as he topped just about every major statistical category. Whilst the wide game of these two caught the eye, the direct running in the close quarters by the likes of Marco van Staden, Harold Vorster and Akker van der Merwe narrowed the Leinster blitz defence before Willie Le Roux and Johan Goosen masterfully got the ball wide through on the money crossfield kicks and exceptional long passes. Finally, and perhaps most crucially, was the demolition job done by Wilco Louw and Gerhard Steenekamp during scrum time. This starts with Louw, who twisted Andrew Porter to such an extent that the Irish loosehead routinely slipped his bind, while Steenekamp frustrated the normally resolute Furlong. This ascendancy in the front row was ultimately what set the foundations for a superb Bulls performance.

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Disjointed Munster Blitzed By Physical Warriors
Taking nothing away from the Glasgow Warriors, who executed their game plan to perfection, Munster were far from the side who went undefeated in the URC in 2024. Outside of taking the initiative at scrum time, little went right for Munster. Their normally influential bench was uncharacteristically off the pace, with RG Snyman, who has so often been the difference for Munster, having by far his worst outing in the red jersey. Looking for offloads that weren’t there and making silly errors both handling and discipline-wise, Snyman ultimately cost Munster a chance at a late comeback with his reckless offload attempt to John Ryan. As head coach Graham Rowntree said post-match, ‘It is going to sting for a long time’. On the flip side, Glasgow took their opportunities when they presented themselves. Most notable among their tactics was to send Sione Tuipulotu down Jack Crowley’s channel all match. Known for his subtle skills, the Scotland international was a wrecking ball who bowled over Munster defenders. Defensively, the Warriors pressed hard off the line, with their backrow in particular stifling the Munster attack. Whilst their first try was rather fortuitous as Kyle Steyn pounced on a mistake from the Munster centres, it highlighted just how switched on the Scottish side were on the day.

Mental Fatigue In Irish Rugby
In worrying signs for Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, the bulk suppliers to the national team in Leinster and Munster both looked dead on their feet towards the end of the season. If not physically, then mentally, as the disappointment of the Rugby World Cup still lingers in key moments. Whilst Munster’s loss looked more like an off day on the back of three mediocre performances in a row, Leinster’s consistent inability to get over the line when it matters is a huge concern for Farrell. Whilst Six Nations titles are never easy to come by, perhaps some perspective is needed. Facing a France side who were equally stung by their World Cup experience and lack of Antoine Dupont. Ireland seemingly parked their disappointment to deliver a 9 out 10 performance in Marseille on the opening night. From here, however, each performance dipped in quality with their loss to an England side who, until that point, had struggled to perform, proved once again their inability to deal with pressure. Outmuscling Scotland in an ugly contest to claim the title was a good result but was far from vintage as their previously slick attack evaded them. In reality, there was little chance of Italy or Wales posing any problems. From an external standpoint, it would appear as though the players are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders and are in desperate need of time away from the spotlight. This, of course, will not be the case with an upcoming tour to the World Champions backyard now less than three weeks away. Given the constant praise the Irish system has gotten for praise for player welfare, there must surely come a point when player rotation at the international level becomes as much of a priority as it has been at the provincial level.

In this episode of Walk the Talk, Jim Hamilton chats with double World Cup winner Damian de Allende about all things Springbok rugby, including RWC2023 and the upcoming Ireland series. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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