And for perennial champions Leinster, it is a rare position for them indeed – it has been a long time since they’ve had to go anywhere, least of all to the home of their arch-rivals Ulster, seeking revenge.

But that is precisely what they find themselves doing when they head to Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on Saturday night.

Judging from the build-up to the game between the top two teams on the log, there may also be a score to settle, for Leinster may not have forgotten one of the incidents in the first round game that some may have overlooked but a section of their supporters and possibly themselves too found antagonistic.

That was the nonchalant shrug that Ulster winger James Hume gave as he crossed the line that confirmed that his team was about to pull off a rare win in Dublin last November. It was an action that attracted a lot of chatter afterwards, and drew what the Irish rugby media called “polarising observations” from the respective camps.

There hasn’t been any talk from the Leinster camp about whether Hume’s celebration will be used as provocation for them for Saturday’s rematch, but it was nonetheless something that was put to Uster assistant coach Dan Soper as the build-up to the Kingspan game started.

“That (Hume’s action) was just the enthusiasm of a young man,” said Soper.

“It was a big game, that was the moment James and the other guys realised we were going to win that game. It’s not something that we practice, it’s just part of the emotion.”

You can’t blame Hume or his teammates for being emotional that night. It was Ulster’s first win in Dublin since 2013 and it was pivotal in putting the Northern Irishmen into their current position of breathing down Leinster’s neck at the top of the table as we head towards the last third of the league phase of the competition.

As it stands, Ulster are four points adrift of Leinster, who with their bonus point win over Benetton last week have lifted themselves to 49 points. Both of the top two have played 12 games.

With Ireland playing England in the Six Nations on Saturday, both teams will have players absent, but there will be no lack of passion and intensity, with Soper referring to the controversy around Hume’s action as an indication of what gets put into an Irish derby.

“That’s how much the guys have invested into the game and when they put so much into it, sometimes a bit of emotion comes out like that. It is what it is,” said the Ulster assistant coach.

“I’m sure Leinster have many ways to motivate themselves, I don’t know if looking at that kind of thing would actually be of any use.”

Ulster's James Hume.

Ulster's James Hume.

Leinster were hurt the last time they lined up against Ulster, and they won’t have forgotten the experience as it doesn’t happen often. And while the men from Dublin will be strongly motivated by revenge, Ulster have the motivation of being able to do something they’ve only done on one other occasion this century by pulling off the double against their rivals.

It has led to suggestions that there may be an incremental narrowing of the gap between the two teams happening, although Soper clearly doesn’t lack any respect for his team’s opponents.

“When you play Leinster, you know it’s a step up, it’s a really big challenge,” added Soper. “They’ve been the standard setters for a number of years. Just as is the case when you play your nearest rival, there is an added jump in the step all week.”

Leinster coach Leo Cullen underlined the importance of the Kingspan game by wasting no time in referencing it after his team’s comfortable win over Benetton last week.

Firstly, he wasn’t getting too carried away with the one-sided win; and secondly he knows that Ulster have one thing other than home ground advantage on their side this week: they have fewer players away to international duty.

“We know Benetton are probably the team in the league that are the most affected by international call-ups,” Cullen said.

“They’re missing over 20 players. It’s really tough on them. But, we’re still pleased with our guys. We’ve come away from home and acquitted ourselves well. We’ve seen how tight it is at the top of the league in particular after teams coming up with some big wins on Friday night so this was important.

“We have a very, very tough challenge coming up next week. Ulster have fewer players away in international camp so we know they’ll have that strong sense of cohesion, a good experienced team.

“They’ve already beaten us at the end of the November window and there’s plenty of distractions that day with Ireland playing England but we’ll knuckle down now and get ready.”

The other Irish team in the top three, Munster, will probably be hoping for an Ulster win as that will bring them within range of the top spot if they win their game at the weekend. However, that game just happens to be against the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus on Saturday, a task that Ulster’s coach, a former assistant at the Bulls and the Springboks, knows won’t be easy.

Weekend Vodacom United Rugby Championship fixtures

Friday, 11 March:
19h10: Cell C Sharks v Scarlets - Hollywoodbets Kings Park, Durban

Saturday, 12 March:
16h05: Vodacom Bulls v Munster - Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
21h35: Ulster v Leinster – Kingspan Stadium, Belfast

Sunday, 13 March:
16h00: Emirates Lions v Cardiff - Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
18h05: DHL Stormers v Zebre Parma - Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch