United Rugby Championship

Bulls Vs. Leinster URC Semifinal Preview: Loaded Leinster Goes To Loftus

Bulls Vs. Leinster URC Semifinal Preview: Loaded Leinster Goes To Loftus

The Vodacom Bulls will host Leinster Rugby at Loftus Versfeld for the first semifinal of the 2023-2024 season. Here is a match preview.

Jun 14, 2024 by Briar Napier
Bulls Vs. Leinster URC Semifinal Preview: Loaded Leinster Goes To Loftus

Though we’re still a few weeks from Ireland’s tour of South Africa, a sort of mini-preview of the opening match of the tour in July is happening this weekend at the club level.

And the stakes are plenty high, with a spot in the United Rugby Championship final on the line.

The Vodacom Bulls will be hosting Leinster at the colossal Loftus Versfeld on Saturday in the first of two URC semifinals.

Leinster — the most successful club in the history of the URC — will try to seal its spot in yet another URC final against the South African side, which is looking for its first URC title since moving over from Super Rugby. 

Leinster, with many players in the squad who will suit up for Ireland at the same venue in less than a month, will need to navigate the always-tough conditions at elevation in Pretoria, but are bringing along a strong unit that won’t be easily intimidated. 

The Bulls, meanwhile, are stuck with a few injury concerns and will need to pack in and find some magic to pull off an upset, even on home soil.

Knockout-round rugby is always full of drama, and this weekend in the URC will be no different.

Here’s a look at Saturday’s URC semifinal clash between the Vodacom Bulls and Leinster in Pretoria:

Vodacom Bulls

Two years after making the URC final in an all-South Africa showdown with the Stormers (losing said final at the Cape Town Stadium), the Bulls are back in the semifinals after the Stormers eliminated them in the first round of the knockout rounds a season ago. 

South Africa’s only team left standing in the URC field, the Bulls had a strong second-place finish in the URC’s regular-season table but will be in for a tricky task to advance to the final, even while on their home pitch in the comforts of the towering Loftus Versfeld. 

Leinster stomped the Bulls by a 47-14 margin in Round 13 in Dublin, as the province ran riot for seven tries from seven players, and while Rugby World Cup-winning back-rower Marco van Staden does return to the starting XV (part of rugby director Jake White’s three changes to the squad from the Bulls’ quarterfinal victory over Benetton), it’s far from a full-strength Bulls side — especially on the back line, which could become a serious concern for the South Africans all match. 

Underdogs on their own turf, the Bulls already were a bit shaky against the Italians in the quarters at Loftus and will need to quickly find a new edge in order to pull off a shocker and take down a Leinster side that’s armed to the teeth with strong options.

Key Man: Willie le Roux, Fullback

The 34-year-old, two-time Rugby World Cup winner has been a calming presence for the Bulls’ backs since he opted to return to a South African club last year after being away from 2017 to 2023, first with the Premiership’s now-defunct Wasps and then with Toyota Verblitz in Japan. 

Leading up to the Bulls’ URC semifinal this weekend, however, Le Roux’s role as a leader in the back line suddenly has become much more important and crucial for the Bulls to have any shot of advancing to the URC final. 

Already without 21-year-old flier Canan Moodie due to a hand injury suffered in the Bulls’ regular-season finale against the Sharks, the Bulls’ other top option in the back line — fellow Springbok Kurt-Lee Arendse — had to undergo emergency surgery this week for a fractured cheekbone suffered in the Bulls’ win over Benetton. 

Considering that Arendse already had scored a brace in the quarterfinal before being forced to come off just under a half-hour into the match, his absence will be a massive blow to the Bulls’ setup and will challenge them to find a steady supply of pace and attacking production from elsewhere. 

While the performances of the Bulls’ forwards will be key, as well, what le Roux can help do at the back while paired with depth pieces in Sergeal Petersen and Devon Williams will be just as vital.


You think Leinster wants URC title No. 9 after three years without hardware in the competition? 

Judging by the loaded squad that the provincial team is bringing to South Africa, it certainly looks as if Leinster isn’t pulling any punches. 

With many members of Leinster’s squad also probably tagging along with Ireland when it visits Loftus for its tour of South Africa in less than a month, the senior internationals within Leinster’s side will be looking to get used to competing — and winning — within the Pretoria elevation, while also trying to get back to a URC final to boot. 

Leinster rolled past provincial rivals Ulster in the quarterfinals, getting revenge for the former’s win over the latter in the penultimate round of the regular season, and should be the favorite on paper to win on the road against the Bulls, where a showdown with top-seeded defending champion Munster (which faces the Glasgow Warriors in the other semifinal) could await them in a potential all-Irish URC final. 

Coach Leo Cullen has selected a side absolutely stacked with talent all over the pitch, and though beating the Bulls at Loftus isn’t exactly a cakewalk, few European club squads sent to South Africa in recent memory have been as talented as Leinster’s group this weekend.

Key Man: Garry Ringrose, Center

Welcome back to rugby, Garry Ringrose, who hasn’t played for Leinster since January due to a long layoff from a shoulder injury and returns in the starting XV at just the right time for his club side. 

Jamie Osborne moves to the bench to make way for the returning Ringrose, with the two-time Rugby World Cup veteran reuniting with Robbie Henshaw in the squad’s center partnership — one of the best in the world today when both are firing on all cylinders. 

Leinster’s starting XV is otherwise unchanged from the quarterfinal - besides Ringrose’s addition - but it’s clear that his return is big news regardless; fitness undoubtedly will be a question considering that he’s had so much time off, but Cullen’s move to throw Ringrose into the starting lineup immediately (and in a playoff semifinal match in South Africa, no less) perhaps indicates that the player has been showing that he’s more than ready to go in training and can be trusted right away. 

Throw in the fact that he is one of a staggering 20 senior Irish internationals in Leinster’s matchday 23, and Ringrose’s experience and cohesion with many of the same men already for both club and country will be an added bonus with his already strong skillset. 


Vodacom Bulls

15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 David Friel, 12 Harold Worster, 11 Devon Williams, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Cameron Hanekom, 7 Elrigh Louw, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje (c), 4 Ruan Vermaak, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.

Bench: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Francois Klopper, 19 Reinhardt Ludwig, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Keagan Johannes, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Cornel Smit.


15 Jimmy O’Brien, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Ryan Baird, 5 James Ryan (c), 4 Joe McCarthy, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter.

Bench: 16 Ronan Kellher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Ciaran Frawley, 23 Jamie Osborne.

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