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Leinster’s last-gasp defeat to La Rochelle in the Champions Cup final was disappointing to those who were hoping they would underline the strength of the United Rugby Championship (URC), but it did offer encouragement to the SA franchises.

The URC play-offs start at the weekend, with three local teams in the last eight but with the spectre of Leinster looming as a major obstacle to any trophy ambitions. Though they lost a thrilling European final in Marseille, the Irish province team remain firm favourites to win the new version of a competition they dominated in its former incarnation as the Pro14...

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