|Venue: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast Date: Friday 3 September Kick-off: 19:00 BST|
|Coverage: Streamed live on the BBC Sport NI website|
Ulster head coach Dan McFarland says winning silverware is his side’s clear objective as a new season draws near.
In three years at the helm McFarland has overseen considerable improvement, but has not yet won a trophy.
Last season Ulster came second in their Pro14 conference, losing only twice in the league, both times to eventual champions Leinster.
“We did pretty well last year but we didn’t do as well as we wanted to,” McFarland said.
“When you start every season, every club wants to win their own piece of silver and to put it into the context of the fact that only one team out of 16 can do it, but we all want to do it, we have the same goals.
“I would say that where we start off, we’d be in the upper chances of doing that but it’s still incredibly difficult.”
Ulster’s preparations will take a step up when they host Saracens in Belfast on Friday night in front of 10,000 fans, a game that will be streamed live on the BBC Sport NI website.
A return fixture follows a week later before the competitive campaign begins against Glasgow on 24 September.
“We’re after silverware, we want to hold a trophy at the end of the year,” McFarland said.
“We’re under no illusions as to the hard work we’ve got to do. There are a number of things where we think we can push on.
“This summer we’ve looked to push on physically, we’re a very fit team but we’ve pushed ourselves further than we’ve pushed ourselves before in this pre-season which is tough because the whole thing is a very delicate balance of how hard you can push but we feel we need to.
“We feel that that’s an area we can squeeze another few drops from. We’re very happy with our style of play but within that there are areas that we’re going to look to tweak.
“They’re all developmental aspects built on the fact that we want to win trophies. If you don’t win trophies you’ve got to squeeze a little bit more.”
Ulster excited for ‘more challenging’ competition
Last season’s Pro14 was criticised for its lack of competitive games, with Leinster and Ulster striding clear at the top of Conference A long before Christmas and Munster doing the same in Conference B.
This year sees the competition replaced by the United Rugby Championship, in which four South African teams join the league as the Southern Kings and Cheetahs drop out.
The new format will see a return to one league table with the top eight reaching the post-season play-offs.
“I’m excited from the perspective that it looks a lot more challenging,” McFarland said.
“It’s an 18 game league so there are three less games, effectively you’re losing your easiest games, the double headers against the teams you’d previously expected to be winning against.
“It makes it very challenging. We’re up for anything that’s going to push us along, test us and give us opportunities to learn is exciting.”