The first of the United Rugby Championship semi-finals kicks off tonight at Leinster host the Bulls at the RDS Arena in Ireland, kick off is at 20:35 if you're watching in SA. This is a game not to be missed as the most lethal attacking side in the competition comes up against the raw power of the Bulls pack, regardless of who you support and the result, tonight's fixture promises to be a nail biting affair.
Leinster finished atop the URC standings, even with the major names in their side plying their trade in the European Champions Cup for the latter part of the group stages. They had done enough early on in the season to take that risk, but it didn't harm them at all. Sending an understrength side to SA saw them drop two games, but not by much and since then they have toppled Munster as well as an emphatic win over Glasgow in the quarter-final weekend, where they scored 76 points.
Leinster are further bolstered this week by the return Tadhg Furlong to the starting line-up, arguably the best prop in the game, he is a menace with ball in hand and will keep the Bulls busy all night. Star flyhalf Johnny Sexton is also back, however he makes his return on the bench. A glance over the Leinster team will quickly reveal that they boast loads of international experience, with their entire loose trio all being starters for the national side and Josh van der Flier in particular being in fine form after being named European Championship player of the year last week.
The Bulls won't be intimidated however as they line up against a star studded team. They did so against the Sharks last week and you can bet they will be chomping at the bit to topple over another big dog. The Bulls are at home in play-off rugby as the Pretoria outfit currently houses every trophy on offer except the URC. They have been in this situation before and will take comfort in knowing they have what it takes to win. They will just have to ensure they leave it all out on the field tonight.
The Bulls too are bolstered by returning players as exciting back Kurt-Lee Arendse is included in the match day 23 after recovering from injury. Marcell Coetzee continues to captain the side and as always will be giving it his all for his team and in a bid to change the Bok coaches minds. The Bulls rely heavily on their pack to establish a strangle hold on the game and Ruan Nortje's large engine will be powering them up all night as he has played more minutes of rugby this year than any other player in the URC.
This is finals rugby and anything can happen. I do predict a win for Leinster as they have only dropped one game at home this year, a shaky loss to Ulster back in November. With that being said however, I am well aware that you can never write the Bulls off and I am sure Jake White and co have more than a few tricks up their sleeves as they look to have the luck of the Irish this evening.
Marcell Coetzee (c)
Bismarck Du Plessis
James Ryan (c)
Josh van der Flier
Date: Friday, June 10
Venue: RDS Arena, Dublin
Kick-off: 19.35 (20.35 SA time; 18.35 GMT)
Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Craig Evans (Wales), Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
TMO: Matteo Lipperini (Italy)