Connacht v Ulster to be first unrestricted sporting event in Ireland

Interprovincial derby on October 23rd set to be moved from Galway to the Aviva Stadium

Connacht’s home game against Ulster on Saturday October 23rd has been moved to the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 5.15pm) and will be allowed to host a capacity attendance after the Government’s decision to end restrictions on crowd size at outdoor sports events, which is to come into effect the day beforehand.

Connacht are aware that this decision could yet be pushed back by a week or two but as things stand their United Rugby Championship derby against Ulster at the 52,000 capacity Aviva Stadium will be the first sports event in Ireland to take place without crowd restrictions.

Connacht have confirmed that all season tickets will be valid for the game, with holders provided a complimentary upgrade to Premium Level seats, and likewise 1885 Club members who purchase tickets from Friday. Remaining tickets for the Lower Level and Premium Level will go on general sale next Monday from 9am.

"This will be the first time that our supporters will have the opportunity to watch our professional squad in the Aviva Stadium, and I'm confident that as usual they will turn out in force and make it a memorable occasion," said Connacht CEO Willie Ruane.


Ruane also thanked the province’s official supporters club, the Connacht Clan, the IRFU, and TG4, who accommodated a change to the kick-off time. While realistically the fixture is unlikely to achieve anything like a full house, even a crowd of 15,000 would be double the capacity at the Sportsground.

Although sacrificing home advantage at the Sportsground, head coach Andy Friend welcomed the switch, not least as Connacht beat Ulster there 26-20 in August 2020 in their first game after the resumption.

“I was asked what did I think about it and straight away I thought of the positives, as I probably tend to, but I’d love to give our players the chance to play in front of hopefully 20-30,000 people. It would be brilliant.

“Interpro games, as I’ve learned, are massive and given we’ve had 18 months with no crowd, I think we could get a big crowd there. We’ve got a lot of Connacht supporters up in Leinster and it’s a great opportunity to head down the road and get a ticket at the Aviva.”

Noting that the decision had also been made after discussions with the Connacht Clan, Friend added:

“The last time we played Ulster in the Aviva we had a good win, so that doesn’t frighten us.”

To begin with, after taking on Cardiff in the Arms Park this coming Friday night in their first competitive game of the season, Connacht have successive home games in the URC against the Bulls and the Dragons, for which the attendance at the Sportsground will be restricted to 50 per cent, ie around 3,000 supporters.

Friend is hopeful that Connacht will be able to confirm the signing of an experienced loose-head on a one-year deal in the coming days due to the serious knee injury which has sidelined Denis Buckley until February. Gavin Thornbury is also rehabbing from a shoulder operation last May while Friend admits Connacht are “a bit skinny” behind Kieran Marmion at scrum-half.

Caolin Blade’s seasonal return has been delayed by several weeks with an Achilles injury while Colm Reilly sustained an ankle injury in training last week which will also sideline him for a number of weeks.

New signing Leva Fifita is rehabbing a dislocated finger, and will miss Friday’s game before returning to training next week. Bundee Aki won’t feature until round four or five, and Sam Illo (foot), Sean Masterson (Achilles), Peter Robb (back) and Alex Wootton (calf) won’t return to training for another two to four weeks.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times