Ulster will know the date and time of their Heineken Cup quarter-final tie against English Premiership side Saracens on Thursday – but they may have to wait a little longer to discover the actual venue for the crunch clash.
Saracens, who won the right to host the quarter-final by finishing higher than Ulster on try count after they both topped their respective pools with 23 points and taking the fourth seeding for the last eight, are still considering their options.
One of those is to play the game at their new Allianz Park home in Barnet, North London – which has a new state-of-the-art artificial surface.
It would break new ground for the Heineken Cup if approval was granted for the game to be played on such a pitch – which is already approved by the International Rugby Board and Rugby Football Union.
On Monday, a demonstration of the surface was conducted with representatives of the 12 Aviva Premiership clubs invited to attend to gather information.
The European tie has already generated much interest as it pits Ulster against former coach, Mark McCall, who during a three-year stint between 2005 and 2007 led the Irish Province to their only Celtic League success to date.
However, the English club added extra spice and debate on Monday by announcing they are in discussions with Barnet Council over the possibility of staging the quarter-final clash there on the weekend of April 6.
Saracens have said the ground is their preferred choice for the match – with Vicarage Road, Wembley or Twickenham potential alternatives.
The ambitious London club will test the surface on Sunday against Cardiff Blues in the LV=Cup in front of a crowd of 3,500, three weeks before the official opening with an Aviva Premiership game against Exeter on February 16.
The capacity of the ground can be brought up to 10,000 for Saracens home games, but the club is seeking permission from the council to temporarily increase that to 15,000 to comply with European Rugby Cup rules for venues hosting quarter-finals.
Studies of American football – 14 NFL teams use similar surfaces – show a marginally lower rate of injury, but no analysis exists on the impact it will have on rugby.
Saracens Chief executive Edward Griffiths insists the eyes of the rugby world will be upon Allianz Park as the club are installing the first artificial pitch designed for professional rugby.
But in respect of the European tie against Ulster, Griffiths accepted there are a number of hoops to go through before the venue could stage the game.
He added: “This is our home ground now so we’d like to stage the match here. This is absolutely our first choice.
“We want to try and bring those discussions to a close by the end of next week. We want something agreed as soon as possible.”
Ulster Rugby were unavailable for comment last night, but as the pitch has IRB and RFU approval, it is understood there are no potential objections that could be raised.
At Thursday’s ERC announcement of the dates for the four quarter-finals, confirmation of the venue could be confirmed if Saracens reach agreement with Barnet Council.
Many Ulster fans have already booked flights to London.