Irish Icon Delights In URC

Iconic Leinster and Ireland midfielder Gordon D’Arcy’s message to rugby fans this weekend is to sit back and just enjoy the quality of the United Rugby Championship semi-finals.

‘Soak it up,’ D’Arcy told the URC. ‘The four most consistent teams are in the play-offs and the two matches respectively offer different playing styles, with the South Africans always physical and tough with their set piece, while the two Irish teams will look to play with greater tempo, to combat this strong South African set-piece.’

Leinster hosts the Vodacom Bulls in Dublin on Friday night and on Saturday afternoon at the DHL Stadium in Cape Town the DHL Stormers are at home to Ulster.

It is Ireland’s best two against South Africa’s best two and it has D’Arcy excited at the potential of the two match-ups, however different the approach of the teams.

There are few more qualified to speak about Leinster and Irish rugby than D’Arcy, who played 257 times for Leinster and in 82 Tests for an Irish squad that won two Six Nations and the Grand Slam.

D’Arcy, in tandem with Brian O’Driscoll, formed one of the most celebrated club and international midfield pairings in the world. He won eight major titles with Leinster as the Dublin-based side rose to be one of the most dominant club sides in Europe in the past decade.

D’Arcy knows the capability of Leinster and was integral to those pioneers who first conquered Europe in 2009.

So much has changed in professional rugby in the past decade and the URC expansion is among those natural evolutions and progressions when it comes to a league, especially with the inclusion of South Africa’s four best regional teams.

‘Given what the world has been forced to negotiate in the past two years because of the pandemic, it really is a case of enjoying what is on offer and being grateful that we have two semi-finals this weekend, played in front of crowds,’ said D’Arcy. ‘Under the circumstances of what the league organisers have had to negotiate and what the players have had to endure, it is very much a weekend of celebration for the league and for all who have made it possible.’

D’Arcy, astute in his analysis as a rugby columnist for the Irish Times, talks like he played, with balance and poise. He also speaks with empathy and understanding, as much as he does in terms of perspective.

‘The URC will prosper. We will get a real-time measurement next season of all teams when (hopefully) we get to experience a season in its normality in scheduling, in the home and away travel, and with the South African teams also for the first time experiencing the additional European competitions that run parallel with the URC.

‘The South African teams have been a fantastic extension to the league and they bring a different dimension, which can only be beneficial to the northern teams. Equally, there is the benefit South Africa’s players will get from experiencing rugby up north.

‘It will improve the coaching of all the league’s teams and also the quality of the players because of how different the demands will be in terms of opposition style.’

Leinster are understandably the favourites to beat the Vodacom Bulls and to go on and win the final, but D’Arcy stressed that this was not a Leinster team in its first season of evolution.

‘Leinster have, through their sustained success, set the standard, but they have been a work in progress for a long time. This is no disrespect to any other team in the league but there also has to be an understanding, especially for the new boys from South Africa, that it takes time to find the balance in when to peak in which competitions, which players to use when and how to effectively grow squad depth and still challenge for titles in all leagues and competitions.

‘It is this challenge that will make for such intrigue in the next few seasons. There can’t be any doubt about the value of the URC as the league will evolve and the benefits to all the countries who make up the URC, but it would be unfair to want to make a judgment on a league that launched amidst a pandemic.

‘The positives have been the quality of the games, the emerging talent we have seen and the fact that the hype continues to grow as the South African teams settle. I have enjoyed watching the matches.’

D’Arcy, speaking to the URC at a public display of the league trophy in Dublin, was asked what he thought of the trophy’s look and feel.

‘It is a bit like the league has been this season: Easy on the eye, pretty cool in design but, as with someone who has had multiple shoulder surgeries, it is a challenge to lift it. It’s pretty heavy. But I like it, as I do the league.’

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