United Rugby Championship: Five storylines to follow in the semi-finals as travel and battered bodies set to play their part

·5-min read
URC semi-final storylines Credit: Alamy
URC semi-final storylines Credit: Alamy

The United Rugby Championship (URC) reaches its semi-final stage this week as only the Stormers, Connacht, Leinster and Munster remain.

Ahead of the four matches, Planet Rugby unpacks the major storylines to follow in what is set to be a blockbuster Saturday of high pressure action.

Scroll to continue with content

The travel factor issue for Connacht

For the second time this season Connacht make the long trip to Cape Town but this week is under very different circumstances. The Irish province were the first European team to play on South African soil in 2022/23 as they arrived fresh as the new campaign was in its early stages. Now they return for the business end.

Like many teams at this stage of the year, they are running on adrenaline and with injury ailments that are under ongoing treatment. Now throwing in a long-haul flight only compounds those knocks and Connacht will hope to get that tough journey out of their legs as soon as possible after touching down in the Republic.

It’s difficult to look past the arduous trip the squad must make for this fixture and we believe it will sadly play a part in the result. However, Connacht and their supporters won’t mind being written off as few expected them to do a job on Ulster last weekend and they managed that. They can’t do it again though, can they?

All eyes on Manie Libbok in Cape Town

He might have had a rare off day against Munster in their recent regular season defeat, but rare it was as Libbok has been excellent for the vast majority of the season. Mesmeric is a word that springs to mind when reviewing his showings and if the Stormers are to go all the way and retain their title, Libbok will be crucial.

Stormers fans realise how vital he is to their URC hopes and if he can replicate anything like his performance against the Bulls last weekend, the men from Cape Town have a great chance at making it to back-to-back finals. His distribution and decision-making was top drawer and he is delivering in high pressure moments.

While Handre Pollard is the first choice fly-half for the Springboks at the moment, surely Libbok has done enough to earn a bench place in this Rugby World Cup year? International recognition is for another day, however, as the 25-year-old hopes to get Stormers’ fans off their seats once again and guide them to the final.

Battered and bruised Munster in Dublin

Boy, that outstanding 14-5 victory over Glasgow Warriors came at a cost. Munster lost RG Snyman, Conor Murray, Malakai Fekitoa, Calvin Nash (all concussion), Peter O’Mahony (elbow) and Diarmuid Barron (shoulder) to injury at Scotstoun. The four that suffered head injuries have already been ruled out, while the latter two are touch and go for the game against a pretty much fully fit Leinster side at the Aviva Stadium.

O’Mahony seemed in serious pain early on and, while he admirably tried to soldier on, it didn’t take long for the Ireland flanker to depart the action. Snyman, Murray, Fekitoa and Nash were withdrawn due to head injuries while Barron left with a shoulder issue, meaning the bench certainly put in a huge shift at Scotstoun.

“Tough game that,” was head coach Graham Rowntree’s response after the impressive result. He’s not wrong and one now waits to see which players can recover.

Leinster now go all out on two fronts

A few knocks and some rotation was evident in Leinster‘s team selection for their quarter-final victory over the Sharks but it rarely showed in their 35-5 success. As has so often been the case for Leo Cullen’s outfit in recent campaigns, making tweaks rarely impacts his side’s form and the Sharks were the latest victim of that.

Expect nothing but all guns blazing from the Dubliners from here on in though as they’ll pick their best XV for the season run-in. Securing a United Rugby Championship-Champions Cup haul would be an incredible achievement and, after heartbreak in both tournaments last term, there is added motivation in 2022/23.

The likes of Jack Conan, Ross Byrne, James Ryan, Garry Ringrose, Andrew Porter and several others will likely now start all three games of their potential run-in to glory and one can’t help feel that those fresh legs from last week could prove vital as they press for silverware on both fronts.

Two incredible venues set to be packed

Cape Town Stadium and Aviva Stadium should be bursting at the seams this Saturday for what promises to be two absorbing semi-final ties. A record crowd of 44,109 spectators attended the win over the Bulls last weekend and hopefully something similar turns out for the Connacht clash as the locals head to Green Point.

There should be no problems in selling the available tickets in Dublin, however, as Munster will travel en masse to the capital, so expect seas of red and blue at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. The atmosphere will be electric in the Irish city and with the forecast set to be sunny, that will only add to a special day of rugby.

What an occasion it promises to be at both semis as two great stadiums play host to games that are unlikely to disappoint in terms of quality and intensity.

READ MORE: United Rugby Championship: Two Cents Rugby picks his top five players of the quarter-finals

The article United Rugby Championship: Five storylines to follow in the semi-finals as travel and battered bodies set to play their part appeared first on Planetrugby.com.