Pressure will be on Leinster after Champions Cup losses

rugby11 June 2024 09:10| © SuperSport
By:Brenden Nel
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Sam Prendergast and Ciarán Frawley © Getty Images

It’s almost unanimous that the Vodacom Bulls will be the underdogs going into their Vodacom United Rugby Championship semifinal against Leinster at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, but the Irish juggernaut will be facing their own heavy set of pressure when they get to Pretoria.

Three lost Champions Cup finals in a row, four in six years and two seasons of URC watching other sides claim the silverware in the competition and a growing sense of urgency for the most well-resourced club in the championship to claw their way back to the top.

That desperation will not only fuel Leinster’s cause heading to Loftus Versfeld, but will also add to the pressure on them to cross hemispheres and beat the Bulls, a side they demolished in Dublin a few months ago with relative ease.

Leinster’s wealth of experience is not unknown. For instance, what club in the URC can boast of over 1000 caps on the bench going into a game - last weekend Leinster’s bench boasted 1018 caps. Their starting XV had a massive 1433 caps - meaning almost 2500 between the match day 23.

Add to that the news that Garry Ringrose and Jack Conan are fit again and it is likely that that number will only increase by the time the team announcement is made this coming weekend.

But that pressure will be the one that will be front and centre when they take the field at Loftus Versfeld.

But Leinster coach Leo Cullen wants his players to embrace it.

“You know, expectation and the pressures as in, you know, to think we haven't won the last three finals,” Cullen said after making the semifinals.

“But you know, like that was a thing of dreams once upon a time to play in three finals in a row.

“Then you throw in the dynamic of this competition that you've got to juggle that over the course of the season and your players being back and forth with Six Nations and November internationals.

“But yeah, it's an unbelievably exciting challenge, isn't it?” He said.

Cullen did admit that the experience in the group would play a major part in the side’s cause this week.

“There's so much experience in our group, so it's just about embracing the challenge now, isn't it?

“Making sure we're imposing our game on the opposition, which is the Bulls? We played the Bulls ourselves. When they had a fully loaded group we were coming off the back of Six Nations.

“We had a sort of mix of some guys coming back in from Six Nations, and we had some guys who had played against Zebre the previous week.”

Leinster are likely to pick their strongest side for Loftus and are overwhelming favourites to win, and yet that pressure can be a strange ally for the Bulls, especially at their home fortress.

And it could serve as a massive precursor to the Ireland test series next month.