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URC Semi-Final: Bulls v Leinster – Key Battles

Quintin van Jaarsveld identifies and examines the key head-to-head battles of Saturday’s United Rugby Championship semi-final between the Bulls and Leinster in Pretoria.

United Rugby Championship

Quintin van Jaarsveld identifies and examines the key head-to-head battles of Saturday’s United Rugby Championship semi-final between the Bulls and Leinster in Pretoria.

Johan Grobbelaar v Dan Sheehan

Given the timing of next weekend’s opening Test against Wales at Twickenham, Bulls players were omitted from the Springbok squad named last Sunday.

Having featured in previous Springbok alignment camps, Grobbelaar will want to send a message to Rassie Erasmus not to forget about him for future opportunities with a repeat of his Man of the Match performance in the Bulls’ shock 27-26 semi-final triumph over Leinster in Dublin two years ago.

He’s been consistently good this season and the extra dimension he brings as a ball thief should see him once again start ahead of Akker van der Merwe, who’s at his best as an impact player off the pine.

Sheehan is arguably the leading hooker in world rugby. Rock solid in all areas and a top athlete, he forms part of Leinster’s splendiferous spine and besting him would do Grobbelaar’s Bok hopes the world of good.

Ruan Nortje v James Ryan

It’s the clash of the captains in the second row.

Nortje is known for his extraordinary work rate, which saw him become the URC’s inaugural Ironman, and he hasn’t let up this season. The 25-year-old has an endless gas tank, which gives him an advantage over his counterpart, especially on the Highveld.

Odds are he’ll outlast him, but will he outsmart him in the battle between the two best lineouts in the league? The Bulls’ lineout has generally worked like clockwork, functioning at 85%, second only to Leinster’s 89%, but they had a few misfires against Benetton last weekend, so Ryan and company will try to disrupt them.

Elrigh Louw v Josh van der Flier

“The Sheriff” steps up for a shootout against the 2022 World Player of the Year.

Van der Flier is Leinster’s sledgehammer, a supremely conditioned cyborg whose mission in part is to set the physical tone, so if teams can shut him down, they’ll both land a psychological blow and slow the kings of continuity down.

Similarly, Louw is crucial in leading the physical charge for the Pretoria side on both sides of the ball. Like Grobbelaar, this is a golden opportunity for him to show Erasmus he can got it for tat against one of the world’s finest flankers.   

Embrose Papier v Jamison Gibson-Park

With both teams relying heavily on quick ball, the Bulls to make the most of their pack’s hard work and Leinster to switch gears with their vaunted phase play, the most pivotal of the positional battles will play out at No. 9.

These two key cogs will have to be clinical and as well as clever as their decision-making and execution will go a long way towards determining the outcome of the contest.

Forgotten Springbok Papier has had a resurgent season, particularly on attack, where he’s greased the wheels of the blue machine masterfully whilst causing defences additional problems with his sniping ability.

Ireland’s first-choice scrumhalf Gibson-Park is the best No. 9 in the business not named Antoine Dupont. A visionary and tactician rolled into one, the New Zealand-born star pulls the strings like few others can.

Sebastian de Klerk/Sergeal Petersen v James Lowe

The Irish giants boast the best wing in the world in Lowe. A pure predator with size, speed and flair – along with a solid left boot – the Kiwi is hard to contain and a man for the big occasion. The second of his two tries against Ulster last weekend showed just how special he is.

It’ll thus be interesting to see who Jake White backs to go up against him in the absence of injured Springbok speedsters Canan Moodie and Kurt-Lee Arendse. De Klerk has generally taken his chances well and has grown this season, however, he was targeted by Benetton and buckled under the pressure.

Petersen has more experience and is a solid hand, but his best days are behind him. Whoever White selects, he’ll have to significantly step up his game.

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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