12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
Welcoming the start of the campaign, IRFU President Pat Fitzgerald said: "The Ulster Bank League represents all that is good about the amateur game of rugby.
"The commitment made by teams the length and breadth of the country results in an extraordinary high standard of play and those who support clubs week in, week out will testify to this.
"Indeed I was greatly encouraged by (St. Mary's winger) Darragh Fanning's remarks in recent newspaper interviews following his selection for Leinster when he said the Ulster Bank League was populated by hugely talented players, many of whom are well capable of making the step up to the professional game.
"Allied to this commitment to excellence on the field is the wonderful camaraderie which exist between rugby clubs and the way in which host clubs look after the travelling supporters, creating a bond amongst clubs which is, in my opinion, unique in Irish sport and which upholds a rugby tradition stretching back generations."
He added: "I applaud all 52 clubs for the commitment and dedication which makes the Ulster Bank League such a special part of Irish rugby and I would encourage people, whether hardened rugby supporters or those eager to sample rugby, to take an interest in your local club, go along to a league match any weekend and experience the genuine quality of the rugby along with the warmth of the welcome."
The ppening weekend of the Ulster Bank League sees some mouth-watering fixtures in all four divisions. We have match previews of every game in our dedicated league section - click here.
A full list of the season's fixtures is available on the IRFU website - http://www.irishrugby.ie/ulsterbankleague.
The lure of the Ulster Bank League was further captured earlier this week by Mike Ruddock, the Ireland Under-20 head coach and coach of reigning Division 1 champions Lansdowne, when he commented: "This league is fantastically competitive and entertaining, with a standard that truly surprises those who come along to watch.
"While we (Lansdowne) stole a march on the rest last season, I have no doubt they will be waiting to pounce this season.
"There are lots of twists and turns along the way, but for us the focus has to be about maintaining the standards we set last season and after that it comes down to very fine and margins."
IrishRugby.ie will have weekly previews and round-ups from the Ulster Bank League this season as well as regular live streams and match highlights on Irish Rugby TV.