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Classy Scarlets set to provide testing opening hurdle

 

By Adam McKendry

Ulster's Guinness PRO14 season will kick off with a home match against last season's runners-up the Scarlets at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday, September 1.

The northern province will welcome the Welsh side, who they will also face in their Heineken Champions Cup pool, for their opening fixture before then facing Scottish opposition in conference rivals Edinburgh in Belfast on Friday, September 7.

However, Ulster will only be available on free-to-view TV three times in their first 17 fixtures after host broadcaster Premier Sports announced their programme schedule. Only their clash against Benetton at Kingspan Stadium on Friday, January 25 will be shown on Premier Sports' free channel FreeSports.

Their trip to Galway to face Connacht on Friday, December 28 will also be on free-to-air TV, as will their opener against the Scarlets, however these will be shown on Irish language channel TG4 and Welsh language channel S4C respectively.

That means fans will have to pay a subscription to Premier Sports to watch the remaining 14 confirmed matches this season after the BBC lost the rights to the PRO14 over the summer.

It's a testing fixture list for Ulster who, as well as facing a star-studded Scarlets side first up, are staring at two away inter-provincial fixtures over their hectic festive period.

In a stray away from tradition, there will be no Boxing Day or New Year's Day games this season, with Ulster facing three consecutive inter-provincials around Christmas and New Year instead.

First they will host Munster on Friday, December 21, before travelling to the Galway Sportsground to face Connacht on Friday, December 28 and Dublin to take on Leinster on Saturday, January 5.

Leinster will also provide the opposition for the final game of the season, on the 26/27/28 April at Kingspan Stadium, following a trip to BT Murrayfield to face Edinburgh in their penultimate encounter.

Their trip to South Africa, which this year will see them play twice against the Southern Kings and Toyota Cheetahs, will take place in rounds three and four in September.

Ulster's return to Port Elizabeth, where they defeated the Kings 43-36 last season, will be first up on Sunday, September 16, while the game against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein will be on Friday, September 21.

There are some tricky away matches to navigate during the international periods too, with visits to Benetton, the Scarlets and the Ospreys all taking place when Ulster will be without their Ireland stars.

The Champions Cup schedule is expected in two weeks.

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