THE home opener for Ulster in the BKT United Rugby Championship takes place at Kingspan Stadium on Sunday (5pm, live on BBC2) when they host the Vodacom Bulls.

Their season got off to a winning start in Italy last week when they came through high-scoring affair at Zebre Parma, winning 40-36.

It's not just the first home game of the new campaign, but a first outing on the new 3G pitch that was laid over the summer.

The South African side arrives in Belfast off the back of a 63-21 home win over Scarlets last weekend with  Cameron Hanekom and Stedman Gans scoring two tries apiece as they ran in nine overall.

Their last visit to Belfast saw the hosts claim a 32-23 win and although the visitors will be without their Springboks who are in the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand on Saturday, they do arrive with a host of top-class talent including team captain and former Ulster favourite, Marcell Coetzee.

"The Bulls are such an interesting team, they have such power, they play with such aggression, that’s one challenge and on the flip side the have fast and dangerous backs," Ulster's Assistant Coach, Dan Soper, said earlier this week.

"You really can't take your eye off the ball. We know it will be a big challenge, we know from our game at the weekend that set pieces are a big challenge and we got stuck into that in training this week - we need to be a lot better."

Lock, Alan O’Connor, returns to captain the side, while Ireland internationals Tom Stewart at hooker, and Tom O’Toole at tighthead, return from World Cup duty.

Dave Ewers makes his home debut in the back row following his arrival from Exeter Chiefs, while full-back Will Addison returns to home comforts for the first time since 2021 after a long-term absence due to injury.

It ought to be a special occasion at the South Belfast venue for a number of reasons, the new surface being one of them, and Soper is looking forward to their first home game on a weekend when rugby will take centre stage.

"This weekend is a special opportunity, the players love playing at home as they have family and friends in the stands, and a big crowd at the weekend is always special," he added.

"It’s a Rugby World Cup final weekend, so rugby is at the forefront of everyone’s mind this weekend. 

"Playing on a Sunday afternoon is a bit different too. They will all be excited to turn up this week. We are looking forward to playing at home, it feels like it’s been a long time since we have played here. 

"We remember our last game here against Connacht (in last season's quarter-final playoff) hurt us a lot so we will probably carry that hurt into the weekend as well."