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Holders handed Scarlets opener

Published 19/07/2013 | 14:56

Champions Leinster face the Scarlets in their RaboDirect PRO12 opener
Champions Leinster face the Scarlets in their RaboDirect PRO12 opener

Leinster's bid to become the first team to successfully defend the RaboDirect PRO12 title will begin away against the Scarlets.

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The league fixtures for the 2013-14 season have been released, with the opening round scheduled for the first weekend of September and the final to be held on the last weekend of May.

Last season's runners-up, Ulster, open their campaign with a trip to Rodney Parade to face the Newport Gwent Dragons.

Glasgow host Cardiff Blues, who have lost centre Jamie Roberts to Racing Metro but are boosted by a return to the ranks of Wales prop Gethin Jenkins.

Elsewhere, Benetton Treviso host the Ospreys, Connacht tackle Zebre and Munster will open their season at home to Edinburgh.

Tournament director David Jordan said: "It is 10 years since the competition changed to a home and away format and four years since the introduction of the end of season play-offs.

"During that time a regular season pattern has emerged and we have seen increases in both attendances and viewing figures so fans are obviously enjoying the rugby that is on offer in the RaboDirect PRO12.

"In the coming season fans in the home unions have the added excitement of the victorious British and Irish Lions players returning to their clubs to look forward to as well.

"Since the inception of the competition five different teams have taken the title, although interestingly no champions have ever defended their crown, Leinster will have a challenge on their hands in the coming season."

Leinster will be launching a new era for the province at the Parc y Scarlets, with Australian Matt O'Connor now in charge after Joel Schmidt was appointed Ireland coach.

Both Scarlets and Leinster have lost British and Irish Lions stars, with George North leaving Wales for Northampton and Jonny Sexton to start the new season with Racing Metro.

But the Scarlets hope to have fly-half Rhys Priestland fit for the opening day clash with Leinster and the region have signed Scotland loose forward John Barclay.

Leinster will have new signings Jimmy Gopperth and Zane Kirchner in their ranks this season while Brian O'Driscoll enters potentially his final season, having agreed a one-year deal in May.

If it is O'Driscoll's farewell, he will hope to be right at the centre of a successful title defence having been sidelined for the thrilling denouement of the Lions tour.

Press Association

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