Ulster given Heineken Cup quarter-final date
Ulster's eagerly awaited Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Saracens has been confirmed for Saturday, April 6 with a 6.30pm kick off.
All that remains is for a venue to be decided though Ulster fans can now begin to make their travel and ticketing plans for London with Twickenham or Wembley likely alternatives if Saracens fail to get the go-ahead for the capacity extension they require at their new Allianz Arena in Barnet, north London.
Sporting allies are ready to weigh in behind Ulster's Heineken Cup bid if their European rugby quarter-final is given the go-ahead confirmed on Saracens' new plastic pitch.
Irish League Premiership sides Cliftonville and Crusaders, the Mid-Ulster Sports Arena in Cookstown and Ballyshannon rugby club in Donegal have offered their similar artificial surfaces to the Ulster team for training and familiarisation.
Now Ulster await the outcome of discussions between Saracens and their local north London council with a view to increasing the 10,000 capacity of their new Allianz Park home in Barnet to 15,000 to comply with European Rugby Cup rules for hosting quarter-finals. Wembley and Twickenham are potential revenue-attracting alternatives with Ulster capable of mustering a 40,000 following as they did for last year's semi-final and final.
Even though it is wait and see, Ulster's Director of Rugby David Humphreys (left) acknowledged the support from inside and outside the game.
He said: “It is a sign of the development of sport in Ulster that these facilities exist and I want to thank those people that have been in touch, offering to open up their arenas to Ulster Rugby and to the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland for their ongoing support.
“Ulster Rugby also has as a strategic partnership with the Sports Institute and the team regularly trains on their indoor, artificial pitch at the University of Ulster at Jordanstown. We are grateful to know that if the game is to be played on a 4G pitch that we have no shortage of top-class training options.”
One of the most anticipated weekends in the rugby calendar will get underway with the all-French clash of ASM Clermont Auvergne and Montpellier at Stade Marcel Michelin at 4.40pm on Saturday, April 6.
Sunday’s matches on April 7 will kick off with the meeting of pool stage top seeds, Harlequins, and two-time former Heineken Cup champions, Munster Rugby, at the Twickenham Stoop at 2.00pm.
With all matches broadcast live, and with capacity crowds expected at every venue, the curtain will come down on the weekend at 5.30 on the Sunday when French heavyweights, Toulon, take on Leicester Tigers, who won the tournament in 2001 and 2002, in the first ever meeting between the clubs in Europe.
Five of the clubs in the last eight of the world’s most competitive club rugby tournament - Clermont, Harlequins, Leicester, Munster and Ulster – have European titles to their names, while Montpellier will be appearing in the knockout stage for the first time.