Belfast Telegraph

McFarland's men to launch European mission away to Bath

Testing slate: Dan McFarland now knows Ulster’s Euro diary
Testing slate: Dan McFarland now knows Ulster’s Euro diary
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster will begin their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a trip to Bath, a game that will take place just two weeks after the World Cup final.

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The global showpiece in Japan has bumped European competition from its usual October start date, meaning Ulster's pool opener in the Recreation Ground will have to wait until Saturday, November 16 (1pm kick-off).

The first time the two teams have been drawn together in a decade, the fixture - which will always bring back memories of a fantastic try from the late Nevin Spence - will be a key one for both sides but may well be influenced by how the likes of Jacob Stockdale, Iain Henderson, Joe Cokanasiga, Anthony Watson and Sam Underhill emerge from their respective national duty in the weeks prior.

The first home European game of the campaign is another tasty one with Clermont coming to Belfast on Friday, November 22 (7.45pm kick-off) for what will likely be one of the most sought-after tickets at Kingspan Stadium this season.

Beaten finalists in the Top 14, a league which kicks off today and will play through the World Cup, Clermont will be returning to a ground where they lost 39-32 just three seasons ago.

After a brief return to league action - in Ulster's case the hosting of Scarlets - it's back to continental competition. Just as was the case two years ago, it will be a festive double against Harlequins, on this occasion the home game coming first up on Saturday, December 7 (3.15pm kick-off) with the return at the Twickenham Stoop a Friday evening clash on December 13 (7.45pm).

Dan McFarland will no doubt feel that a repeat of the nine-point haul of last time around would be a serious stepping stone towards repeating last season's return to the knockout stages.

Up next, when the competition resumes in 2020, will be a trip to Clermont, likely on January 11 but with the possibility of a switch to a day later, with Ulster yet to win at the Stade Marcel-Michelin, most recently losing there in December 2016.

Round six, which has proven to be make-or-break for Ulster in each of the last two seasons, is already set in stone with Bath the visitors to Kingspan on Saturday, January 18 (3.15pm kick-off).

Munster and Leinster both begin their campaign on the same Saturday as Ulster with Benetton travelling to the RDS (3.15pm kick-off), and Johann van Graan's men heading to the Liberty Stadium to face Allen Clarke's Ospreys.

Connacht must wait an extra day before they host Montpellier at the Sportsground (1pm kick-off) with the undoubted pick of the first weekend's ties following when Mark McCall's Saracens visit Racing 92 (3.15pm kick-off).

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