For the first time in the Heineken Champions Cup we have a two-legged round-of-16 matches, and all four Irish provinces are in action having come though a severely disrupted and disjointed pool phase.
Eleven of the group matches were not played, with six 28-0 wins being awarded to whichever team was deemed not at fault, while five other matches were recorded as draws. It was far from satisfactory.
The highlight from an Irish point of view is the first leg of interpro derby with Connacht hosting Leinster at the Sportsground this evening.
Ulster, fresh from their trek to South Africa, are in France to face champions Toulouse on Saturday, while Munster face Exeter at Sandy Park.
Connacht v Leinster (Friday 8pm) and Ulster v Toulouse (Saturday 3.15pm) are live on RTÉ Radio 1.
The games are live on BT Sport.
RTE.ie/sport will have live blogs on Friday night and Saturday with match reports and reaction from the grounds.
Met Éireann says Galway will have clear skies in 7C, with a wind of about 19km/h. We'll see. It's due to be partly sunny with a couple of showers in Toulouse, around 11C. Limerick on Saturday evening is set for cloudy skies in about 10C.
Connacht scraped through the pool stages to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition for the first time.
Andy Friend's side got off to a super start with a 36-9 win over Stade Francais in Galway.
However, they picked up just five more points from their three remaining games, including two against Leicester, due to two try-bonus points and two losing bonus points.
That was good enough for the fifth qualifying spot in Pool B but set them of course with four-time champions Leinster, whose away tie at Montpellier was awarded as a 28-0 loss after Leo Cullen’s side were deemed at fault due to a Covid outbreak in their camp.
Two big wins over Bath and a ridiculous 89-7 massacre over a third-string Montpellier side at the RDS saw them reach 15 points in Pool A.
These will be the teams' first meeting in Europe, but Leinster have twice beaten the Westerners this season, 45-8 and 47-19.
Cullen’s side have won eight of their last nine away games in the tournament, while Connacht’s home winning record stands at just 56%.
The hosts have a massive task on their hands with Leinster able to recall a host of Ireland regulars to their line-up including captain Johnny Sexton.
The goal will be to stay in the hunt ahead of next Friday’s second leg at the Aviva.
Connacht: Tiernan O'Halloran; John Porch, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen; Jack Carty (c), Kieran Marmion; Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham; Gavin Thornbury, Leva Fifita; Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver, Jarrad Butler.
Replacements: Dylan Tierney-Martin, Tietie Tuimauga, Jack Aungier, Oisín Dowling, Abraham Papali'i, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Sammy Arnold.
Leinster: Hugo Keenan; Jimmy O'Brien, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (c), Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong; Ross Molony, Josh Murphy; Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.
Replacements: James Tracy, Ed Byrne, Michael Ala’alatoa, Devin Toner, Max Deegan, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne, Ciarán Frawley.
Referee: Karl Dickson (RFU)
Ulster’s 'reward’ for winning four from four is a mouthwatering meeting with champions Toulouse.
Dan McFarland’s men finished on 19 points, the same as Pool A winners Racing 92, after doing the double against Clermont and Northampton.
Toulouse, meanwhile, currently fifth in the Top14, won away at Cardiff, had a tie with Wasps declared a 0-0 draw, lost to Wasps and then had their final-round fixture declared a 28-0 defeat.
That mixture of on and off-field results left the French side, who have won their last ten home European games, seventh in Pool B.
Scrum-half Antoine Dupont, to no-one's surprise, has averaged more metres (171) and defenders beaten (11) per game than any other player in the tournament.
Ulster lost their two most recent games in the URC in South Africa but were unlucky not to have come away with more.
Michael Lowry, the Ireland full-back, has carried for a competition-high 563 metres.
Toulouse: Thomas Ramos; Juan Cruz Mallía, Zack Holmes, Pita Ahki, Matthis Lebel; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (capt); Rodrigue Neti, Peato Mauvaka, Dorian Aldegheri; Rory Arnold, Emmanuel Meafou; Rynhardt Elstadt, Thibaud Flament, Francois Cros.
Replacements: Guillaume Cramont, Cyril Baille, Charlie Faumuina, Richie Arnold, Anthony Jelonch, Alban Placines, Martin Page Relo, Sofiane Guitoune,
Ulster: Mike Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ben Moxham, Billy Burns, John Cooney; Eric O'Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O'Connor, Iain Henderson (capt), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: Brad Roberts, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Jordi Murphy, Nathan Doak, Luke Marshall, Rob Lyttle.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)
Munster's season rumbles on and they face Exeter, currently fourth in the Premiership, at Sandy Park, where they have won ten of their last 11 in the competition.
Still to announce who next season’s head coach is, it’s an unwanted distraction and in the aftermath of another dispiriting defeat to Leinster, must be becoming more frustrating for the faithful the longer it goes on.
However, their Champions Cup results have been solid, even if some of the performances, the back-to-backs against Castres in particular, were average.
The opening-round win against Wasps, with a severely depleted team in the wake of their first trip to South Africa which was badly affected by Covid-19 outbreaks and restrictions, was a hark back to the good old days but they have not kicked on.
Those four wins from four were good enough for a third-place finish in Pool B.
Exeter, meanwhile, won their two home games, against Glasgow and Montpellier and lost the reverse fixtures.
Johann van Graan’s men have won five of their last eight knockout games on the road and are three from three against English opposition in those matches.
Exeter: Stuart Hogg; Olly Woodburn, Henry Slade, Ian Whitten, Tom O'Flaherty; 10. Joe Simmonds, Sam Maunder; Alec Hepburn, Jack Yeandle (capt), Harry Williams; Jonny Gray, Sam Skinner; Dave Ewers, Jacques Vermeulen, Sam Simmonds.
Replacements: Jack Innard, Ben Moon, Patrick Schickerling, Jannes Kirsten, Richard Capstick, Jack Maunder, Harvey Skinner, Josh Hodge.
Munster: Mike Haley; Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Simon Zebo; Ben Healy, Conor Murray; Jeremy Loughman, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley; Jack O'Donoghue (capt), John Hodnett, Alex Kendellen.
Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Josh Wycherley, John Ryan, Jason Jenkins, Thomas Ahern, Craig Casey, Rory Scannell, Jack O'Sullivan.
Referee: Pierre Brousset (FFR)
Elsewhere on Saturday, Bordeaux host Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle, Bristol are at Sale and Stade Francais welcome Racing 92 across town.
On Sunday, Montpellier take on Harlequins in the GGL Stadium and Clermont are at home to Leicester.