While the main focus of the weekend is on the opening shots of the respective autumn Test series as New Zealand, Australia and South Africa aim go gunning for a European Grand Slam, Ulster themselves are preparing for international action.
For the first time in over a decade, Matt Williams’ side will face a full International side at Ravenhill next Thursday (kick-off 7.30pm) when they take on Portugal.
Nicknamed “Os Lobos,” Portuguese for “the wolves”, Portugal qualified for their first Rugby World Cup in 2007 and have experienced unprecedented success in recent years.
The national team was surprise winners of the 2003-4 European Nations Cup, and has continued to record impressive results since, narrowly losing 21-13 last weekend to Canada, who face Ireland tomorrow.
Portugese Team Manger, Francisco Carvalho Martins, has spoken about what the main focus of the tour was for his side and now how they feel about taking on Ulster at Ravenhill.
“The tour has been in the planning stage for six months now and remains a very important stage in our build-up towards the RWC qualifying games in February 2009,” said Martins.
“Unfortunately, due to our player resources being stretched to the maximum and some common small Union financial constraints, we were forced to shorten the tour by one game, but we are very pleased that we will get to face Ulster and are greatly looking forward to the occasion, with Ulster's form of late the game promises to be a good one.
“Ulster are a very well established professional side, that has a solid reputation throughout Europe and has many skillful players in the squad. Next Thursday, we will not be focusing our attention on any one player for fear of allowing the others to cause us havoc, our focus will be the team as a whole.
"Most of the Portuguese players have not have played rugby in Ireland before.
“The game is at a different stage in Ireland than it is in Portugal, and we hope our playing experiences against Connacht and Ulster will prove very beneficial to our squad going forward.”
\[Peter Hutcheon\] A lot of our players have also not travelled to Ireland before, so it will also be a new experience both on and off the pitch for them, and we are hoping to see some of the country during the tour."
Ulster flanker Kieron Dawson admits the opposition next Thursday will be an unknown quantity.
“I know they played well in last year’s Rugby World Cup, they lost their games but played well in their pool with Italy only beating them 31-5, they also put in good performances against Scotland and the All Blacks,” said Dawson.
“They are a strong force in the International Sevens circuit and I played against them on that circuit in the not so dark and distant past.
“As a Sevens team they are ve ry hard to play against, they are a very skilful and strong.
“It is hard to prepare for a team that you haven’t seen much of so I think it is important that we just concentrate on ourselves. In many ways the shackles are off for us in this game, there are no league points to gain; it is purely a game for us to test ourselves.
“We can express ourselves in this game and play some good old fashioned rugby, it will be a very hard physical challenge but we are all up for it.”
Tickets for the friendly match are available from www.ulsterrugby.com, the Ravenhill Ticket Office and Ravenhill Ticket Line.