Belfast Telegraph

All of Ulster's Pro14 fixtures as South Africa trip stands out

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Thanks to the radical overhaul of the newly-named PRO14, Ulster fans had to wait a little longer than normal to find out their team's fixtures for the new season but can finally now begin to plan for the weeks and months ahead.

One fixture which will certainly be marked in the calendars already is the province's first trip to South Africa for a competitive game as they travel to Port Elizabeth for a tussle with the Southern Kings in the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday, November 4.

While originally appearing later in the season in an earlier draft of the schedule, Les Kiss will no doubt be pleased that, given the lengthy travel time involved, the game will be his side's last before a 20-day break to allow for the Autumn Internationals.

It had already been confirmed that Ulster will open the season against the league's other new South African entrant, kicking things off against the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs at Kingspan Stadium on Friday, September 1.

With a conference system now in place to accommodate the new arrivals, Ulster will play one fewer regular season game, while there is no longer a straight home and away format to the league portion of the season.

With that in mind, the fixture computer seems to have worked in Ulster's favour.

The province will still have 11 home games next year, although this will rotate as best as possible in future seasons.

Of the sides they will play only once, they meet Cheetahs, Ospreys and Glasgow at home, with the latter during the Six Nations window, always important given the tally the Scotstoun outfit supply to the Scottish national side.

In contrast, when they do have to travel, they will play against Zebre and Cardiff, two sides who finished in the lower half of the PRO12 last season, with the former seemingly in disarray earlier this summer amid reports of unpaid players.

With the full inter-pro schedule having been maintained despite the change in league structure, Ulster's first game against fellow Irish opposition will come against Connacht at home on Friday, October 6, one week before the first block of Champions Cup fixtures.

They meet Leinster at home when the league resumes at the end of that month, the first of their fixtures that will be shown on Sky Sports.

And in an interesting twist for this season, the festive period will bring with it not two but three derbies.

Starting with a trip to face Connacht in Galway on December 23, Ulster will then host Munster at Kingspan Stadium on the first day of 2018.

And while in recent seasons the Christmas derbies would have ended there, the side's next game, coming on Saturday, January 6, will be against old rivals Leinster at the RDS.

Another break, this time for the concluding rounds of Champions Cup pool action, will follow, with Ulster playing host to the Southern Kings when the PRO14 resumes in February.

That game figures to be the side's first after their Irish stars depart for Six Nations duty, likely also having to negotiate their way past Edinburgh, Scarlets, Glasgow and Cardiff without their Test stars.

They should be back in harness for the trip to Edinburgh at the start of April, before Jono Gibbes and co lead the squad into their seemingly traditional testing finish at home to Ospreys and then away to Munster.

With a new play-off system in place, that Thomond Park fixture will occur on April 27, with the first of what is now three rounds of play-off action to begin one week later.

Ulster’s fixtures

Friday, September 1: Ulster v Cheetahs, 7.35pm kick-off

Saturday, September 9: Treviso v Ulster, 5.05pm

Friday, September 15: Ulster v Scarlets, 7.35pm

Friday, September 22: Ulster v Dragons, 7.35pm

Saturday, September 30: Zebre v Ulster, 2.35pm

Friday, October 6: Ulster v Connacht, 7.35pm

Saturday, October 28: Ulster v Leinster, 6.15pm

Saturday, November 4: Southern Kings v Ulster, 4.00pm

Friday, November 24: Ulster v Treviso, 7.05pm

Friday, December 1: Dragons v Ulster, 7.35pm

Saturday, December 23: Connacht v Ulster, 7.35pm

Monday, January 1: Ulster v Munster, 5.35pm

Saturday, January 6: Leinster v Ulster, 5.35pm

February 9/10 : Ulster v Southern Kings

February 16/17: Ulster v Edinburgh

February 23/24: Scarlets v Ulster

March 2/3: Ulster v Glasgow

March 23/24: Cardiff V Ulster

April 6/7: Edinburgh v Ulster

April 13/14: Ulster v Ospreys

April 27: Munster v Ulster

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