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Leinster to send second-stringers to South Africa?

URC SPOTLIGHT: After achieving their objective of qualifying for the last four of the Champions Cup, Leinster are now heading to South Africa.

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Leinster smashed old foe Stade Rochelais 40-13 in their quarterfinal and now the focus shifts to the United Rugby Championship.

Leinster now come to South Africa to play the Lions first and then the Stormers and it is going to be interesting to see what squad they send.

The first-choice Leinster players were engaged in the top-of-the-log URC game against the Bulls on the Easter weekend so they’ve had three games in a row when you include the last two Champions Cup knockout matches.

Conveniently for the Stormers, Leinster’s Champions Cup semifinal against Northampton Saints is a week after they are in Cape Town – so they might be looking at player management considerations when they play against the inaugural URC champions.

On the evidence of the Leinster win over La Rochelle, however, there is no debate about the strength of Leinster when they are at full strength, and they are gaining in form with each game they play.

The Stormers would have been without as many as six frontline players had it been them and not La Rochelle who went to Dublin this past weekend, so maybe John Dobson’s men dodged a bullet when Manie Libbok missed what would have the winning conversion in the Round of 16 match.

Although Saints, the current leaders in the Premiership, were convincing winners against the Bulls, who went to Franklin Gardens understrength, they will be underdogs in the early May semifinal, and ditto Harlequins, who produced the shock of the quarterfinal round by winning an astoundingly absorbing and entertaining game in Bordeaux by a solitary point.

Indeed, while there were some big wins for the favoured teams, the quarterfinals did show the South African rugby public what there is to be had if the local teams win through to a home play-off.

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There was so much vibrancy and colour in evidence in Bordeaux, Dublin and for that matter Northampton, and the intimidating and noisy crowd in Toulouse is often remarked on by those who have experienced it.

The current agreement that sees the competition played only in Europe from the semifinal round onwards will fall away when SA Rugby becomes full shareholders next season and maybe with more for the SA teams to aim at there will be the necessary step up in focus on the Cup competition.

At the moment the potential compromise of their URC challenge brought about by the travel factor at this stage of the Champions Cup, where venues for the quarterfinal round are decided by the games played the week before, mitigates against the South African teams throwing everything at it.

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The Bulls are having to answer questions about them fielding an understrength team against Northampton but in reality it appears to be an accepted way of dealing with the challenge of being part of two competitions. As evidenced by the French teams often going understrength for away games.

Although Harlequins will be underdogs in their Champions Cup play-off against Toulouse, no one gave them a chance of beating Bordeaux, so they won’t travel completely lacking in confidence.

While Leinster are the only remaining URC team in the Champions Cup, two of the four sides in the last four of the EPCR Challenge Cup have the URC as their bread-and-butter tournament.

If the Sharks win what will be a tough semi against Clermont-Auvergne in London, they will be up against one of fellow URC team Benetton or the English team Gloucester in the Challenge Cup Final in London on May 24.

Clermont got to the next round by destroying Ulster.

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