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Ulster aim to be battle-hardened for European Champions Cup quarter-final in Toulouse

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Ulster are due to take on Toulouse in the quarter-finals.

Ulster are due to take on Toulouse in the quarter-finals.

�INPHO/Presseye/Pascal Pavani

Ulster are due to take on Toulouse in the quarter-finals.

Ulster will be hoping to be as battle-hardened as possible for knockout rugby ahead of their newly re-arranged European Champions Cup quarter-final with Toulouse on Sunday, September 20.

Dan McFarland's squad could have up to four games behind them by the time they travel to France as underdogs for their crunch tie at Le Stadium (kick-off 12.30pm UK time) after the PRO14 reconvenes at the end of next month to finish the 2019-20 season's pandemic-disrupted programme.

Ulster face two weekends of inter-provincial derbies at the Aviva Stadium ahead of potentially the same number of knockout clashes should they make the PRO14 final.

Four matches, regardless of whether league silverware is secured, would allow Ulster to at least hit the ground running when it comes to revisiting last season's European programme.

The province had originally been scheduled to play Toulouse in early April but all the quarter-final clashes were postponed due to the coronavirus and the resumption of all rugby will be dependent on no further surges in the pandemic.

The Champions Cup semi-finals and final are due to be completed by the third weekend of October at a venue yet to be determined after a decision was made not to go ahead with the original venue in Marseille.

As things currently stand, supporters can travel to France from Northern Ireland without the requirement of quarantine at either end and up to 5,000 are currently permitted inside French stadiums, though this figure could well be increased by September.

Le Stadium, the southern French city’s multi-purpose facility, holds just over 33,000 spectators.

The Sunday quarter-final will have extensive TV coverage and will be covered by both BT Sport and Channel Four.

With Covid-19 very much part of the backdrop, tournament organisers EPCR issued a reminder that their plans could well change.

“All matches will be subject to government guidelines and/or restrictions with EPCR prioritising the health and welfare of players, club staff, match officials, media, supporters and the wider rugby community,” a statement said.

The last time Ulster visited Toulouse was in December 2015 when they beat their hosts 25-23, at the rugby club’s usual home at Stade Ernest Wallon, to complete a winning double over the four-time European champions in that season’s back-to-back rounds.

Ulster also made the quarter-finals in the 2018-19 season when they narrowly lost to Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.

Europe’s last-eight is due to get under way at 3pm on Saturday, September 19 when Leinster host defending champions Saracens at the Aviva Stadium in what will be a re-run of the 2019 final.

That much-anticipated clash will be followed by the all-French affair at Stade Marcel-Michelin between Clermont Auvergne and Racing 92.

The next day will see Ulster’s meeting with Toulouse ahead of the last quarter-final of the competition’s 25th anniversary season which brings English Premiership sides Exeter and Northampton Saints together at Sandy Park.

Belfast Telegraph