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Euro final on home patch offers huge incentive



Alby Mathewson

Alby Mathewson

Getty Images

Alby Mathewson

Ulster's hopes of European glory this year have been raised by the possibility that the Champions Cup final could yet be held at the Kingspan Stadium.

The show-piece contest was originally due to be held in Marseilles in May, but coronavirus put everything on hold back in the spring, with Ulster's quarter-final trip to Toulouse among the games on tap when the competition resumes two weekends from today.

The unprecedented delay has meant that there will be no 'destination final' this time around with Marseilles instead taking its turn next year and the venue for this year's final on October 17 to be dependent on who advances.

While the challenge of a trip to four-time winners Toulouse in the last eight - not to mention a subsequent semi-final should they be victorious in France - is sizeable, the carrot of a 'home' final would be considerable for an Ulster side who have not lost in Belfast since October 2018 and have struggled beyond the boundaries of BT6 in more recent times.

With Leinster also in the last eight and preparing to play Mark McCall's Saracens, the Aviva Stadium has been looked at as another option, as have the Ricoh Arena and Ashton Gate in England with the Premiership guaranteed at least one semi-finalist by virtue of Northampton Saints and Exeter being drawn to face off against each other.

Ulster were yesterday able to register new signings Alby Mathewson and Ian Madigan for European competition despite the former having already appeared for Munster in this season's Champions Cup, a relaxation of usual laws meaning both will be able to play their part against Toulouse.

The Top 14 champions are due to play their first game since lock-down restrictions came into effect against Clermont tomorrow afternoon.

The resumption of rugby in France comes despite the increase in Covid-19 cases throughout the country. LNR have recommended that a game will be called off in their jurisdiction only if more than three members of a senior squad return a positive test.

Starting with last night's game between Montpellier and Pau, six clashes were due to take place across the weekend with Stade Francais' game against Bordeaux the only postponement.

Belfast Telegraph