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Ulster in line for semi-final spot as PRO14 announce plans for August return

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Ulster are currently set to join Leinster in the semi-finals.

Ulster are currently set to join Leinster in the semi-finals.

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Ulster are currently set to join Leinster in the semi-finals.

The Guinness PRO14 have confirmed their ambition to resume the league in five separate countries at the end of August.

The weekend of August 22/23 had already been earmarked by IRFU CEO Philip Browne for behind-closed-doors Irish derbies in the Aviva Stadium.

Those games and the ones to follow a week later will provide the conclusion to a 2019/20 regular season that will be curtailed to 15 games, while there will only be two rounds of the playoffs rather than three.

To ensure each team finishes with the same number of games played, Ulster's postponed trip to Treviso at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe has been deemed a 0-0 draw with each side awarded two points.

That gives Dan McFarland's men a nine point lead over third-placed Glasgow in Conference A, virtually ensuring their place in the semi-finals to be played on September 5 with two points from two games all that's required.

The final, which had been due to take place in Cardiff this Saturday, will now be played a week after the semis on September 12.

David Jordan, Tournament Director of the Guinness PRO14, said: "Safety has been, and will continue to be, the highest priority as we look to activate our plans to restart the 2019/20 season.

"We are very fortunate to be in a position where everyone involved is confident that we can conclude the season on the field of play.

"The work and diligence of our leading medical personnel at our unions, our clubs, World Rugby and key stakeholders to get us to this point has been immense.

"Operating across five territories often brings different complexities to the Guinness PRO14 but our unions have worked hard to bring proposals to their governments so we may put plans into action."

There will be little break before the beginning of the 2020/21 campaign, now scheduled to start on October 3 with the possibility of concluding the Champions Cup season in between.

Ulster were due to travel to Toulouse in April for a quarter-final earned via a runners-up finish in a pool containing Clermont, Bath and Harlequins back in the winter.

Next season's Champions Cup, meanwhile, looks set to involve 24 teams with eight groups of three to cut down pool fixtures, a format that would see all four Irish provinces qualify from the PRO14.

But the start of next season could well take place without Ulster's internationals with World Rugby set to vote later this month on how best to reschedule previously postponed Tests such as Ireland's concluding Six Nations fixtures at home to Italy and away to France with October thought to be the most likely scenario.

Proposed PRO14 schedule:

Round 14: Saturday, August 22

Round 15: Saturday, August 29

Semi-Finals: Saturday, September 5

Final: Saturday, September 12

Belfast Telegraph