Ulster are set to buck UK Government advice regarding no fans at sports events as 600 supporters will be invited to attend Friday night’s Guinness PRO14 opener versus Benetton in Belfast. Clubs in the Gallagher Premiership last week had to abandon the series of pilot events aimed at getting rugby supporters back at matches. 

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Despite successful fixtures at Harlequins and Gloucester, plans were scrapped to permit crowds to attend matches across all UK sports for the foreseeable future – including at Test rugby level – following the announcement of fresh pandemic measures. 

Those restrictions won’t now apply to PRO14 Ulster, however, after the rugby club reached agreement with the local Northern Ireland government, Belfast City Council and the IRFU. 

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In a statement, Ulster said: “The event provides the club with the opportunity to work with supporters to test a safe and manageable return to operations at Kingspan Stadium. 

“Fans will be asked to provide feedback on their experience, to ensure the club continues to provide a safe and enjoyable experience in the weeks and months ahead.

“The trial to reintroduce supporters and other valued members of the Ulster Rugby family follows a comprehensive consultation process with local government, Belfast City Council and the IRFU. In total, around 850 people will attend the season opener against Benetton Rugby.

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“All 600 tickets will be made available to #TogetherUlster members only via an online ballot process. 300 members will be randomly selected and granted the opportunity to purchase two tickets each.”

Delighted that Kingspan Stadium will have supporters for the first time since a February win over the Cheetahs, Ulster CEO Jonny Petrie said: “Following a number of very challenging months for us all, I’m encouraged that this weekend will mark the measured return of a limited number of spectators to Kingspan Stadium.

“It seems only fitting that the fans who chose to support us by buying a membership, during what is likely to be one of the most difficult times we will face as a club, will be able to join us in the stands as we kick-off the new Guinness PRO14 season at home. 

“This event is the culmination of a considerable amount of planning and preparation from across Ulster Rugby – together with the IRFU, Belfast City Council and local government – to ensure this is a safe and managed return to the Friday night lights. 

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“We hope the upcoming match will be the solid foundation on which we can continue to build towards once again being able to all stand up together.”

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