In advertising tonight’s match between Ulster and Leinster, the Ravenhill hosts trumpeted this match as “the oldest rivalry in Irish rugby”.
or for a while there it also felt like the most one-sided thing.
There isn’t a team in Europe that wouldn’t have found themselves peering over the fence with envy if they had found themselves as Leinster’s nearest neighbours.
But while Munster have managed the odd knock of late, the relationship between the eastern and northern provinces over the past decade plus has been one of haves and have nots yet.
Leinster remain the most trophy-laden side in the northern hemisphere in recent years, while Ulster’s follow-up to the 2006 Celtic League title remains highly anticipated.
No other side has had a bigger hand in the drought than tonight’s visitors at Ravenhill; Leinster defied Ulster in the 2012 Heineken Cup final and two league deciders in the last 10 years.
And yet tonight’s URC third round clash has flipped the script on the hunter and the hunted.
Having lost twice to Dan McFarland’s men home and away last season, Leinster roll into town in a rare position – coming to Belfast with revenge on their minds.
In the pre-match, pre-match press conferences, the two sides were understandably at odds over whether last season’s results will overshadow tonight’s proceedings.
“Do I think that’s going to be the biggest motivation for them to come here? No,” McFarland said ahead of the second interpro of the season.
“I think they want to win an away game against an inter-pro rival. We’ve had good competitions over the last few years, it’s been exciting games and that will be a big focus for them I suppose.
Such a stance is understandable. Ulster have learned the hard way over the years that Leo Cullen’s men are not a side that usually needs any extra motivation.
Leinster, for their part, have been more willing to acknowledge the elephant boarding the team bus on its way to Belfast.
In a season that will be defined by their response to a first trophyless campaign since 2017, there was no hiding from last year’s double disappointment when they faced the media.
“Yeah, we touched on it quickly in the dressing room,” said hooker Dan Sheehan, fresh from his four tries in last week’s win against Benetton.
“It’s always a massive game for us. Ulster have improved season by season over the last few years and they’ve become a really good team, which was shown last year where they beat us twice, so motivation is at top level.
“I think everyone will hit the ground running after having a game under their belt and will be ready for Friday.”
Last year’s games are just one of the subplots swirling around a contest that is the heaviest of the opening weeks of the season.
The unusually early staging of the match has allowed for a stronger away selection than has often been the case over the years, although the likes of Johnny Sexton and James Ryan are kept in reserve with Tadhg Furlong, Hugo Keenan, James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park missing.
Ulster, meanwhile, await James Hume, Iain Henderson and Duane Vermeulen.
But there’s enough heavy artillery in each camp to give this the feel of a thoroughbred derby still less than a month into the campaign.
And while the early indications are that the URC numbers in the second expansion year will be deeper again this season, the anticipation will only be heightened by the reality that these are the two early pacesetters.
The only two sides sitting on 10 points earned from two games played,
Ulster produced some sublime attacking rugby against the Scarlets in Llanelli last weekend, while McFarland cited Leinster’s “all-round” game as the reason they provide such a consistent challenge game in, game out.
Still sitting in September, this campaign clearly has plenty of miles left to run, but even at this early stage it feels like an important 80 minutes.
A third win on the spin against their toughest opposition might just be Ulster’s most important of the bunch.