Saturday 24 February 2018

Ulster braced for Garces return

Referee Jerome Garces. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Referee Jerome Garces. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile Newsdesk Newsdesk

Ulster's pivotal Champions Cup clash against Pool 1 qualification rivals Saracens at Allianz Park will be given pride of place on Saturday, January 16 (3.15) after the final two rounds of dates and venues were confirmed by EPCR organisers.

And Jerome Garces, who controversially red-carded full-back Jared Payne when the sides met in a Belfast quarter-final two seasons ago, will once again take charge.

Ulster's game against the unbeaten leaders is sandwiched between their re-arranged trip to basement side Oyonnax a week earlier and, although they are eyeing a last-eight berth as runners-up, they could still emerge as pool winners by avenging their opening-day heavy defeat in Belfast.

Munster, who must rely on favours from elsewhere after losing two of their first three games, will face Stade Francais in Thomond Park at 1.0 on Saturday, January 16, while Leinster, already out, seek consolation against Bath in the RDS at 5.30 as all three Irish sides unusually compete on the same day.

Ulster complete their campaign with their home fixture against Oyonnax on the following Saturday (1.0) while Leinster travel to Wasps (3.15). On Sunday, January 24, Munster complete their Pool games against Treviso when they hope to still be in contention.

Like Ulster, they face a re-arranged fixture on January 9, in Paris against Stade Francais.

The referee appointments have also been unveiled. JP Doyle will officiate Munster's home clash with Stade Francais while French whistler Pascal Gauzere will take charge of Leinster's tie against Bath.

On the final weekend, Italian Marius Mitrea will run the rule over the Belfast clash of Ulster and Oyonnax.

Mathieu Raynal will take charge of Leinster's visit to Wasps as they seek to avenge a heavy home defeat in the reverse round one fixture.

Alexandre Ruiz will be in the middle for Munster's Treviso trek.

Connacht are well-placed to make the last eight off the Challenge Cup but they face a daunting 8.45 kick-off away to Brive on January 16, refereed by Craig Maxwell-Keys.

Their final game, where they will hope to frank their qualification status, is against Russians Enisei-STM in Galway on Saturday 23 (3.0).

Irish Independent

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