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This is not Leinster against the Vodacom Bulls in the most anticipated semi-final of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship. This is South Africa versus Ireland. This is one in the world versus two in the world. This is the most most anticipated clash in world rugby, post the 2023 World Cup.

If we are talking about another URC play-off fight week, then it does not get bigger. It is Ireland in the Republic, at altitude, in the unofficial first of three Tests.

On the 6th July the world champions Springboks will host the Irish. The hosts, one in the world and world champions, plays number two in the world, the Six Nations champions.

The Springboks World Cup winners in 2019 and 2023, have dusted every nation, except Ireland.

The two nations have only played twice in six years, once in Dublin in 2022 and, at the World Cup in front of 80 000 in a pool match in Paris in 2023.

Ireland won 19-16 in Dublin and 13-8 in Paris, but the Springboks won the World Cup.

The last time Ireland were in South Africa for a Test series in 2016 was the first time they won a Test in the Republic.

The series ended one-all, and every passionate supporter decried why it was not a three-Test series.

When Ireland’s two-Test series in South Africa was confirmed, the first against the Boks in Pretoria at Loftus on the 6th July and the second a week later in Durban, the matches sold out in 30 minutes. The capacity at both stadiums is 50 000.

The lust of the South African supporters was to see their World Cup winning Springboks and also the only team to have beaten the Springboks at the World Cup and in between two successive World Cup title wins.

Ireland, shoulder to shoulder and standing tall, the four provinces united, north and south in unison, Ireland’s Emerald Green so prominent, and in South Africa for two Test matches for the first time since 2016.

It is rugby bliss in South Africa.

Why only two Tests bemoaned the South African rugby public. Why not three?

Well, there are three, in the guise of the Vodacom Bulls against Leinster in the Vodacom URC semi-final, just three weeks out from when the Boks open their Test year against Ireland.

The Test match in Pretoria sold out within 30 minutes, and 100 000 plus Bulls-based Bok fanatics did not get tickets because capacity could not accommodate command.

Now the Bulls are hosting the core of this Irish team, who on the 6th July will be back in Pretoria at Loftus Versfeld for the most anticipated Test match of the year.

Jake White, director of rugby at the Tshwane based franchise says the occasion is both a marker of where the club has grown and a club test match ahead of the test series beginning in July.

“This is probably the biggest club game we have had in a really long time. This Leinster side has 25 internationals, a World Cup-winning coach and a team that is desperate to win. Their current group of players has played at the World Cup, three European Cup finals, they have played in VURC playoffs and they have played and won the Six Nations. All they have done over the last three years is switch the colour of their jerseys, blue this week and green the next.”

It should be a sell-out occasion.

On the 21st September at the 2023 World Cup, Ireland’s coach Andy Farrell named his match 23 to play the Springboks in Paris.

Leinster’s Hugo Keenan started at fullback and Leinster, in the 23, provided midfielders Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw, left wing James Lowe, scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park, hookers Ronan Kelleher and Dan Sheehan, props Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong, lock James Ryan, loose-forwards Jos van der Vlier, Caelan Doris and Ryan Baird.

Only the veteran starting No 10 Jonny Sexton is retired of the 11 Leinster starters who fronted the Boks for Ireland, that total increased to 14 in the match day 23, who beat the world champion Boks less than a year ago.

This is the quality of players who will be at Loftus on Saturday. This is Ireland, in another guise, proudly wearing the Leinster blue, but back in South Africa in July, in the famous Irish green.

The URC is about a fight till the end, where four teams become two on Saturday night, but in the context of 2024, Saturday’s semi-final in Pretoria is also the precursor to the most awaited Test series between the Springboks and Ireland.

The Vodacom Bulls versus Leinster is huge because it is South Africa versus Ireland. It is one versus two in the world internationally. It is one shade of green versus another shade of the green and it is dark blue versus light blue.

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