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Champions Cup

Best and Cave in Ulster Squad for Quarter-Final Clash

Rory Best and Darren Cave will play their last home game for Ulster tomorrow in the Pro 14 quarter-finals

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(Photo By Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Rory Best will captain Ulster for the final time at home when his side face Connacht in the Pro 14 quarter-finals at the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday at 17 35. 

Best leads the team out but it will also be Darren Cave’s final home appearance too if he is used from the bench.

In what will be an emotional day in Belfast, Eric O’Sullivan and Ross Kane partner Best in the front-row with Iain Henderson and Kieran Treadwell packing down in the engine room.

Nick Timoney, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee are selected at six, seven and eight respectively to finish off the pack.

John Cooney and Billy Burns line-out in the half-backs after being rested last weekend against Leinster. Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall are just outside them in the centre.

Rob Lyttle and Robert Baloucoune start on either side of Michael Lowry in the back-three.

There is plenty of experience on the bench with the likes of Rob Herring, Andy Warwick, Sean Reidy and Darren Cave to call upon.

Speaking ahead of the game Best has admitted he couldn’t imagine a better way to sign off in front of the home crowd.

“If I could pick a way to go out, it would be knockout rugby at the stadium that I have played at for such a long time. I supported the team, I played for the team and I hope it will be a great atmosphere. It will be nice to get out there and thank the fans more than anything and all the people who have supported me for 15 years now,” he said.

Connacht are the team looking to rain on the Ulster parade and defeated Ulster on their home soil for the first time in 58 years earlier in the season.

Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham open the game as the front-three, with Ultan Dillane and Gavin Thornbury starting as the locks.

Eoin McKeon is the blindside flanker, with Colby Fainga’a on openside and captain Jarrad Butler at No 8.

Kieran Marmion has been chosen ahead of Caolin Blade at scrum-half, and Jack Carty at fly-half.

Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell are at 12 and 13 respectively, as Matt Healy, Stephen Fitzgerald and Tiernan O’Halloran make up the starting XV.

There is power on the bench too, especially in the backs as Caolin Blade, Tom Daly and Darragh Leader are all available to the men from the West.

Connacht head coach Andy Friend is delighted that his side have reached their goal of clinching a knock-out spot but believes there is more to come from his men.

“This is a massive game for us. Knock-out rugby with the added incentive of an interpro. We said all season that we wanted to be playing at the business end of the season but now we want to go and win and get to a semi-final. I genuinely feel that we haven’t played our best rugby yet and we are constantly improving,” he said.

The winner of this game will go on to face Glasgow Warriors in Scotstoun for a place in the final and whoever wins this weekend could go all the way.

Check Out the Highlights From When the Two Last Met Below

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Challenge Cup

Heineken Champions Cup pool draw for 2021/22

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(Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

The holders, Stade Toulousain, will be up against Wasps and Cardiff Rugby in the pool stage of next season’s Heineken Champions Cup following the pool draw for the 2021/22 tournament which was held today (Wednesday 21 July) in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Stade Toulousain, who completed the Heineken Champions Cup and TOP 14 double last month for the second time in the club’s history, were drawn into Pool B and will meet Wasps and Cardiff over four pool stage rounds on a home and away basis.

With the qualified clubs drawn into two pools of 12, reigning Gallagher Premiership champions Harlequins will have Castres Olympique and Cardiff as their opponents in Pool B when the tournament kicks off again in December, while last season’s PRO14 winners, Leinster Rugby, are in Pool A where they will be up against Montpellier Hérault Rugby and Bath Rugby.

Stade Rochelais, runners-up in the Heineken Champions Cup final, will meet Bath and Glasgow Warriors in Pool A, while Exeter Chiefs, who lost out to Harlequins in the Premiership decider, will take on Montpellier and Glasgow in Pool A.

Munster Rugby, who were in Tier 1 as the second-ranked qualifier from the PRO14, were drawn against Castres Olympique and Wasps in Pool B.

Elsewhere, Ulster Rugby will take on ASM Clermont Auvergne and Northampton Saints in Pool A whilst Stade Français Paris were drawn into Pool B and will take on Pat Lam’s former club, Connacht Rugby, and his current charges, Bristol Bears.

For the purposes of the draw, the 24 clubs which qualified from the TOP 14, Premiership, and the PRO14 were classified into four tiers based either on their respective league rankings or on other qualification criteria.

Each tier contained six clubs with Tier 1 made up of the number one and number two ranked clubs from each league, and Tier 2, the number three and number four ranked clubs from each league, and so on.

Starting with Tier 1, the clubs were either drawn or allocated into either Pool A or Pool B so that each pool contained 12 clubs with no clubs in the same tier from the same league in the same pool.

The key principles regarding the pool stage fixtures are that clubs will only play against opponents in the same pool, and clubs from the same league cannot play against one another.

The Tier 1 and Tier 4 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which are from the same league, will play one another home and away over four rounds. The same principle applies to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which are not from the same league.

The exact dates of the Heineken Champions Cup pool stage fixtures, as well as venues, kick-off times and TV coverage, will be announced as soon as possible following consultation with clubs and EPCR’s partner broadcasters.

The 2021/22 tournament will be played over nine weekends with four rounds of matches in the pool stage. The eight highest-ranked clubs from each pool will qualify for the knockout stage which will consist of a Round of 16 on a home and away basis, quarter-finals and semi-finals, with the final in Marseille on 28 May 2022.

Today’s draw, which was live-streamed on HeinekenChampionsCup.com, was conducted by EPCR’s Head of Events and Operations, Ben Harries, and by EPCR’s Partnerships Activation Executive, Laia Gonzalez. The event scrutineer was Lausanne-based solicitor, Jean-Guillaume Amiguet.

2021/22 HEINEKEN CHAMPIONS CUP

POOL A (with opponents in brackets)

Stade Rochelais (Bath Rugby, Glasgow Warriors)

Exeter Chiefs (Montpellier Hérault Rugby, Glasgow Warriors)

Leinster Rugby (Montpellier Hérault Rugby, Bath Rugby)

Racing 92 (Northampton Saints, Ospreys)

Sale Sharks (ASM Clermont Auvergne, Ospreys)

Ulster Rugby (ASM Clermont Auvergne, Northampton Saints)

ASM Clermont Auvergne (Sale Sharks, Ulster Rugby)

Northampton Saints (Racing 92, Ulster Rugby)

Ospreys (Racing 92, Sale Sharks)

Montpellier Hérault Rugby (Exeter Chiefs, Leinster Rugby)

Bath Rugby (Stade Rochelais, Leinster Rugby)

Glasgow Warriors (Stade Rochelais, Exeter Chiefs)

POOL B (with opponents in brackets)

Stade Toulousain (Wasps, Cardiff Rugby)

Harlequins (Castres Olympique, Cardiff Rugby)

Munster Rugby (Castres Olympique, Wasps)

Union Bordeaux-Bègles (Leicester Tigers, Scarlets)

Bristol Bears (Stade Français Paris, Scarlets)

Connacht Rugby (Stade Français Paris, Leicester Tigers)

Stade Français Paris (Bristol Bears, Connacht Rugby)

Leicester Tigers (Union Bordeaux-Bègles, Connacht Rugby)

Scarlets (Union Bordeaux-Bègles, Bristol Bears)

Castres Olympique (Harlequins, Munster Rugby)

Wasps (Stade Toulousain, Munster Rugby)

Cardiff Rugby (Stade Toulousain, Harlequins)

2021/22 weekends

Round 1 – 10/11/12 December

Round 2 – 17/18/19 December

Round 3 – 14/15/16 January 2022

Round 4 – 21/22/23 January 2022

Round of 16 (1st leg) – 8/9/10 April 2022

Round of 16 (2nd leg) – 15/16/17 April 2022

Quarter-finals – 6/7/8 May 2022

Semi-finals – 13/14/15 May 2022

Challenge Cup final – Friday 27 May 2022; Stade Vélodrome, Marseille

Heineken Champions Cup final – Saturday 28 May 2022; Stade Vélodrome, Marseille

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Champions Cup

2021/22 Heineken Champions Cup format and qualifiers confirmed

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(Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

Following the conclusion of the domestic seasons in England and France, EPCR is pleased to confirm the format and qualifiers for the 2021/22 Heineken Champions Cup as Europe’s elite club tournament is set to return with a highly competitive schedule of 71 matches.

The Heineken Champions Cup will once again be competed for by 24 clubs with eight representatives from the Gallagher Premiership, the Guinness PRO14 and the TOP 14 having secured their places. (See qualifiers and rankings below)

The clubs will be divided into two pools of 12 – Pool A and Pool B – by means of a draw and the tournament will be played over nine weekends with four rounds of matches in the pool stage starting in December when Stade Toulousain begin the defence of their title.

The eight highest-ranked clubs from each pool will qualify for the knockout stage which will consist of a Round of 16 on a home and away basis, quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final in Marseille on 28 May 2022. (See key dates below)

The draw for the pools will be carried out on the same lines as last season with the clubs separated into four tiers, and clubs from the same league in the same tier will not be drawn into the same pool.

The number 1 and number 2 ranked clubs from each league will be in Tier 1, the number 3 and number 4 ranked clubs will be in Tier 2, the number 5 and 6 ranked clubs will be in Tier 3, and the number 7 and number 8 ranked clubs will be Tier 4.

The Tier 1 and the Tier 4 clubs which have been drawn in the same pool, but which are not in the same league, will play one another home and away during the pool stage, as will the Tier 2 and Tier 3 clubs which have been drawn in the same pool, but which are not in the same league.

The pool draw will be live streamed on HeinekenChampionsCup.com and the date of the event as well as further details will be communicated shortly.

As previously announced, EPCR is currently putting the finishing touches to a new shareholder agreement, and discussions to finalise the Challenge Cup format for the 2021/22 season, as well as the formats for the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup for future seasons, are ongoing.

These discussions include the future participation of South African clubs in EPCR’s tournaments as referenced recently by the United Rugby Championship and no further comment will be made until the appropriate time.

2021/22 Heineken Champions Cup qualifiers
Gallagher Premiership: 1 Harlequins, 2 Exeter Chiefs, 3 Bristol Bears, 4 Sale Sharks, 5 Northampton Saints, 6 Leicester Tigers, 7 Bath Rugby, 8 Wasps

Guinness PRO14: 1 Leinster Rugby, 2 Munster Rugby, 3 Ulster Rugby, 4 Connacht Rugby, 5 Scarlets, 6 Ospreys, 7 Cardiff Rugby, 8 Glasgow Warriors

TOP 14: 1 Stade Toulousain, 2 Stade Rochelais, 3 Racing 92, 4 Union Bordeaux-Bègles, 5 ASM Clermont Auvergne, 6 Stade Français Paris, 7 Castres Olympique, 8 Montpellier Hérault Rugby

2021/22 key dates
Round 1 – 10/11/12 December
Round 2 – 17/18/19 December
Round 3 – 14/15/16 January 2022
Round 4 – 21/22/23 January 2022
Round of 16 (1st leg) – 8/9/10 April 2022
Round of 16 (2nd leg) – 15/16/17 April 2022
Quarter-finals – 6/7/8 May 2022
Semi-finals – 13/14/15 May 2022
Challenge Cup final – Friday 27 May 2022; Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
Heineken Champions Cup final – Saturday 28 May 2022; Stade Vélodrome, Marseille

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Challenge Cup

Ulster name team for Northampton Quarter-Final trip

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Photo By Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The Ulster coaching team has named the match-day squad for the trip to face Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday (kick-off 8pm).

Michael Lowry is named to start at full-back, and is joined in the back three by Jacob Stockdale and Robert Baloucoune. Stuart McCloskey and James Hume will form the midfield duo, and Billy Burns and John Cooney are the starting half-backs.

In the front row, Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring and Marty Moore retain their starting berths. Alan O’Connor will partner Kieran Treadwell in the second row. Last week’s Player of the Match, Sean Reidy, will start at blindside flanker, with Jordi Murphy skippering the team at openside and Nick Timoney at Number Eight.

John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea and Greg Jones will provide the forward reinforcements from the bench, with Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan and Ethan McIlroy named as the back line options.

Ulster team to play Northampton Saints, Challenge Cup Quarter-Final, Saturday 10 April at Franklin’s Gardens (kick-off 8pm, live on BT Sport):

(15-9) Michael Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns, John Cooney;

(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy (Capt.), Nick Timoney.

Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea, Greg Jones, Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan, Ethan McIlroy.

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