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Johnny Watterson: Irish teams advance to the URC semi-finals as Leinster to travel to Pretoria to face the Bulls

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Wins for all four of the home teams and the United Rugby Championship (URC) has shaped up into a semi-final formation that many betting fans had predicted, the top four seeds all involved in the final two matches.

Leinster earned a trip to South Africa to meet the Bulls in Loftus Versfeld and Munster held on to their home advantage to face Glasgow Warriors in Thomond Park, the games taking place respectively on Saturday at 3pm in Pretoria and 6pm in Limerick.

Both winning Irish sides did so without much pain, Munster never allowing Ospreys to get into their heads or territory apart from a 10-minute spell at the end of the first half of their quarter-final and Leinster framing their tag as competition favourites with six tries in Aviva Stadium against Ulster.

Leinster scores came from Robbie Henshaw, Jordan Larmour, Josh van der Flier and two from James Lowe, his second particularly capturing the mood in their 43-20 win.

Lowe’s control with his boot and weighted tap forwards from a crossfield kick from Ross Byrne, before touching down will demand reruns on social media such was the extravagance of his footballing skills. Ulster’s three tries came from Dave McCann, Stewart Moore and Michael Lowry.

Leinster will now assess the challenge of travelling to the African continent for Saturday’s semi-final. The ground, at an altitude of 1,350 metres above sea level and the many strengths of the Bulls, who finished second on the table in the league proper, was always seen as the biggest threat to the Irish side since the knockout phase was drawn.

However, it was the logistics of getting to South Africa that was occupying coach Leo Cullen’s mind in the minutes after beating Ulster.

“A week’s notice, a week until we’re there playing a rugby match, it’s a very unusual dynamic,” said Cullen.

“I don’t want to bore you about the dynamics of how airlines do/don’t operate on the weekend, but there are multiple moving parts. I don’t know if you’ve booked many trips for 45 people on a Saturday night. If anyone has any advice? I don’t know [when we leave], the bags are packed. We’ll be setting sail alright. Maybe we’ll go on a boat!”

Cullen also said that Jack Conan, who was withdrawn as a precaution before the Ulster game and Garry Ringrose, who has been a long-term injury, will both make it on to the plane for the semi-final. Otherwise, the players who played on Saturday came through with no serious injury.

“I think everyone is okay [from Saturday],” said Cullen. “There is a little bit of tightness and cramps, but I don’t think there is anything major. Garry [Ringrose] and Jack [Conan] should be good to go. The plan is for them to travel.”

That made for a good vibe in Dublin, and it was much the same in Limerick, where Munster coach Graham Rowntree was, as he has been throughout Munster’s current 10 match unbeaten run in the competition – cautious but determined to drive his side towards their second URC final in succession and put them in a position to win back-to-back titles.

They will strive to do that without injured Tom Ahern, who will miss the end of season matches.

Munster were camped on the Ospreys line for much of the second half but struggled to get over the line, with some astute kicking from Irish outhalf Jack Crowley moving the scoreboard in their direction and making Munster good for a straightforward if uninspiring 23-7 win and the semi-final date with Glasgow.

The Scottish side beat the Stormers 27-10 to avoid a URC quarter-final exit for the first time in three seasons.

Rowntree knows, as does Glasgow coach Franco Smith that the teams have a past. Munster went to Scotstoun just over a year ago for the quarter-final and left their hosts licking their wounds after a 14-5 defeat.

In an interview with the BBC over the weekend, former Scotland prop Peter Wright, set out the meeting between the two sides in the most colourful of terms.

“It will be good to go there and beat them in their own backyard and I think they can do that. What better way to get to a final,” said Wright. “You want to get a little bit of revenge, but that’ll take care of itself because they hate us – Glasgow and Munster hate each other massively. That’s gone on for years.”

Knives drawn then, it’s all to play for.

United Rugby Championship Semi-finals

Saturday, June 15th: (2) Vodacom Bulls v (3) Leinster, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, 3pm (Irish time) – Live on SuperSport, RTÉ, Premier Sports, URC.tv

Saturday, June 15th: (1) Munster v (4) Glasgow Warriors, Thomond Park, Limerick, 6pm – Live on TG4, SuperSport, Premier Sports, URC.tv

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