Ulster will welcome 600 fans to the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast for their Guinness Pro14 opener of the 2020-21 season against Italian side Benetton on Friday night.
While pilot events, including 700 attending the Edinburgh v Glasgow game last month, over 2,500 at some English games and as many as 5,000 in France, are currently back on hold elsewhere due to the restrictions imposed following a surge in UK coronavirus cases, Ulster are going ahead with what is described as a “safe return trial” at their 18,500-capacity stadium.
An Ulster statement said: “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.”
Former Scotland back-rower and Edinburgh managing director Jonny Petrie, who is chief executive officer at Ulster, added: “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.
“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.”
The delayed Guinness Pro14 2020-21 season starts this weekend with games on Friday and Scotland’s two teams, Edinburgh and Glasgow, in action on Saturday evening against Ospreys at BT Murrayfield and away to Connacht in Galway.
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