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
Squad Update | Munster Prepare For Bayonne At Thomond
The Munster squad are preparing at the HPC ahead of Saturday’s Investec Champions Cup opener against Bayonne at Thomond Park (5.30pm).
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Jean Kleyn will be unavailable until the New Year due to an eye injury suffered in the Leinster match. He attended for a specialist review last Tuesday and Wednesday and will have further follow-up before Christmas.
Jack Daly (ankle) and Liam Coombes (shoulder) both underwent surgery last week and will begin rehabilitation under the medical department.
There is good news for Patrick Campbell (ankle) as he has returned to team training.
Jack O’Donoghue (ankle) will also return to training this week.
Simon Zebo (knee) will continue to rehabilitate early this week.
The availability of Campbell, O’Donoghue and Zebo will be determined later in the week.
Peter O’Mahony (shoulder) is improving but will remain unavailable for the Bayonne clash.
Continuing to rehab: Jack Daly (ankle), Peter O’Mahony (shoulder), Liam Coombes (shoulder), RG Snyman (chest/shoulder), Joey Carbery (wrist), Roman Salanoa (knee), Mike Haley (hip), Cian Hurley (ankle/achilles), Niall Scannell (groin).
There were 11 Munster players in AIL action for their clubs at the weekend.
In Division 1A, Fionn Gibbons, Chris Moore and Keynan Knox helped Young Munster to a win over City of Armagh with Gibbons among the tries.
Ethan Coughlan and Daniel Okeke were in action for Shannon as they were beaten away to Terenure College.
In Division 1B, Jack Oliver, George Hadden and Colm Hogan helped Garryowen beat Blackrock College with Hogan scoring a try on his debut for the club. Oliver also kicked three conversions and two penalties.
Jack O’Sullivan and Ben O’Connor featured for UCC as they were narrowly beaten by Old Wesley.
In Evan O’Connell helped UL Bohemians to a draw against MU Barnhall.
Images & Content from Munster Rugby
A World First For Munster Rugby And Crusaders
Munster Rugby and the Crusaders are set to create history in 2024 with a world-first ‘Clash of Champions’ game on Saturday, February 3 (5pm).
The New Zealand franchise secured their seventh successive Super Rugby Pacific championship on Saturday in Waikato defeating Chiefs 25-20 to retain their title. They are the most successful team in the competition’s history having won 14 trophies and are world renowned for their history and record of success and excellence.
Following Munster’s recent URC success in Cape Town, it will be the first time ever the reigning champions of the URC and Super Rugby face off against each other.
Former Munster Head Coach Rob Penney has already been confirmed as the new Crusaders Head Coach from 2024 and their pre-season campaign will see them embark on their first-ever international tour for fixtures against Munster and Bristol Bears.
Munster Rugby CEO, Ian Flanagan said: “We are delighted to welcome the Super Rugby champions to Munster, hosting a groundbreaking fixture against the Crusaders.
“We hold a proud and rich history of playing touring sides and I’ve no doubt next February’s game will be a special occasion for all involved.”
Colin Mansbridge, Crusaders CEO, said: “The Crusaders are thrilled to be coming over to Ireland and the UK to face some stiff competition away from home.
“NZ and Australian clubs have been working on the World Club Competition for years, so when an opportunity for Super teams to play Northern Hemisphere counterparts came up, it was just too good to pass up.
“Munster have a history of giving touring sides a pretty hard time, so they present particularly tough competition. There’s also the added connection with our new Head Coach Rob Penney who coached there,” Mansbridge said.
The venue within Munster, and ticket details, will be confirmed in due course. MRSC members will be contacted directly regarding a pre-sale.
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2024 Crusaders Ireland and UK Fixtures
Saturday, February 3, 2024
Munster Rugby v Crusaders, Venue TBC, 5pm;
Friday February 9, 2024
Bristol Bears v Crusaders, Ashton Gate, 7.30pm;
Images & Content from Munster Rugby
Leinster drawn in Pool 4 in the 2023/24 Champions Cup
The draw for the pool stages of the 2023/24 Champions Cup took place earlier this afternoon in Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Leinster Rugby have been drawn in Pool 4, alongside La Rochelle, Stade Francais, Leicester Tigers, DHL Stormers and Sale Sharks.
Leo Cullen’s team will face La Rochelle, Stade Francais, Leicester Tigers and Sale Sharks in the four pool matches, with two matches at home, and two matches away.
The top-four teams from each pool will advance to the Round of 16, with the fifth-placed teams moving into the EPCR Challange Cup.
All fixture details will be confirmed in due course.
Round 1 – 8/9/10 December 2023
Round 2 – 15/16/17 December 2023
Round 3 – 12/13/14 January 2024
Round 4 – 19/20/21 January 2024
Round of 16 – 5/6/7 April 2024
Quarter-Finals – 12/13/14 April 2024
Semi-Finals – 3/4/5 May 2024
EPCR Challenge Cup Final – Friday 24 May 2024, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Champions Cup Final – Saturday 25 May 2024, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Images & Content from Leinster Rugby