Defending champions Leinster secure prime Munster clash
Defending champions Leinster, who this morning will unveil re-development plans at the RDS, secured a Guinness Pro12 victory before a ball was even kicked after winning a fixtures battle with Celtic League organisers.
After a few months of turbulence in European rugby, it had been feared that Leinster's home tie with Munster may have been switched to a date that could have proved difficult for officials to secure their annual money-spinning sell-out.
However, that has not been the case and, even if it isn't yet the middle of July, Irish rugby fans are already thirsting for Guinness Pro12 action.
Having confirmed the worst kept secret in the rugby close season, the Guinness Pro12 uploaded the 2014/15 season's fixtures, but supporters will have to wait until Sky Sports puts its significant oar in before they can start circling kick-off times in their diary. Guinness are understood to have signed a two-year deal, with the option of a third.
However, the defending champions know that they will have to kickstart a new era without Brian O'Driscoll with a statement of real intent as they face the beaten finalists, Glasgow Warriors, in what is likely to be a fiendishly difficult September 5, Friday night kick-off.
Leinster will eye up their now familiar Lansdowne Road setting for their inter-provincial clash with Munster in early October, but Matt O'Connor's men will be concerned that they will have to begin their European campaign after a trip to Zebre in Italy.
Leinster end their campaign with five away games in seven games.
Munster, under new coach Anthony Foley, at least host Scarlets a week before their European campaign kicks off; it has been traditional for Ireland's biggest derby to take place a week before the European Cup begins its initial two-week window.
Leinster's reverse clash with fierce rivals Munster is scheduled to take place in or around St Stephen's Day; a clash that is sandwiched between their hosting of two other RDS derbies, against Connacht and Ulster respectively.
With European qualification now based on finishing positions in the Pro12, Munster have been handed the perfect opportunity to begin their campaign with a bang – especially after the disappointment of losing out controversially to Glasgow at the penultimate stage last season.
Ulster, who have endured a summer of upheaval off the pitch, have been handed an easy start but their conclusion is difficult.
They face Zebre twice in the opening month, but finish their campaign with fixtures against their fellow play-off contenders from last season; with visits of Munster and Leinster to Ravenhill sandwiched by a trip to Glasgow.
Connacht, who will be absent from the higher tier of European competition for the first time in three years as they are forced to qualify by right, are at home on the opening weekend against the Dragons before bookending their season by facing another Welsh visitor, Ospreys.
Now that the Italians – Zebre and Treviso – have committed to the competition, the anomaly remains that, although seven teams are due to emerge from Pro12 to join the new European Champions Cup, the fact that at least one Italian side must be accommodated can skew matters. For example, Connacht could conceivably finish in seventh position but, if the two Italian sides finish 11th and 12th, as happened last season, the best-placed of the pair would automatically qualify for the European Champions Cup.
As ever with the Pro12, there are unsatisfactory elements and this is just one of them but, with new sponsors on board, boasting a history of high-profile sports and rugby marketing, as well as the involvement of Sky Sports, perhaps this is the season the competition can grip the broader sporting population.
The official curtain-raiser to the new campaign will be revealed once the kick-off times for the first half of the campaign have been announced.
Good things come to those who wait. Not the last time you'll hear that particular clarion call as the Guinness Pro12 and Sky Sports aim to drag the competition into a bright new era.
Guinness Pro12 FIXTURES 2014-15
ROUND 1 – Weekend of Sept 6: Connacht v NG Dragons, Glasgow Warriors v Leinster, Munster v Edinburgh Rugby, Ospreys v Benetton Treviso, Scarlets v Ulster, Zebre v Cardiff Blues
ROUND 2 – Weekend of Sept 13: Benetton Treviso v Munster, Cardiff Blues v Glasgow Warriors, Edinburgh Rugby v Connacht, Leinster v Scarlets, NG Dragons v Ospreys, Ulster v Zebre.
ROUND 3 – Weekend of Sept 20: Cardiff Blues v Ulster, Connacht v Leinster, NG Dragons v Glasgow Warriors, Ospreys v Edinburgh Rugby, Scarlets v Benetton Treviso, Zebre v Munster.
ROUND 4 – Weekend of Sep 27: Edinburgh Rugby v Scarlets, Glasgow Warriors v Connacht, Leinster v Cardiff Blues, Munster v Ospreys, NG Dragons v Benetton Treviso, Zebre v Ulster.
ROUND 5 – Weekend of Oct 4: Benetton Treviso v Glasgow Warriors, Connacht v Cardiff Blues, Leinster v Munster, Ospreys v Zebre, Scarlets v NG Dragons, Ulster v Edinburgh Rugby.
ROUND 6 – Weekend of Oct 11: Benetton Treviso v Connacht, Edinburgh Rugby v NG Dragons, Munster v Scarlets, Ospreys v Cardiff Blues, Ulster v Glasgow Warriors, Zebre v Leinster.
ROUND 7 – Weekend of Nov 1: Cardiff Blues v Munster, Glasgow Warriors v Benetton Treviso, Leinster v Edinburgh Rugby, Ospreys v Connacht, Ulster v NG Dragons, Zebre v Scarlets.
ROUND 8 – Weekend of Nov 22: Benetton Treviso v Leinster, Connacht v Zebre, Edinburgh Rugby v Cardiff Blues, NG Dragons v Munster, Scarlets v Glasgow Warriors, Ulster v Ospreys.
ROUND 9 – Weekend of Nov 29: Cardiff Blues v Benetton Treviso, Connacht v Scarlets, Glasgow Warriors v NG Dragons, Leinster v Ospreys, Munster v Ulster, Zebre v Edinburgh Rugby.
ROUND 10 – Weekend of Dec 20: Cardiff Blues v Scarlets, Edinburgh Rugby v Benetton Treviso, Glasgow Warriors v Munster, Leinster v Connacht, NG Dragons v Zebre, Ospreys v Ulster.
ROUND 11 – Weekend of Dec 27: Cardiff Blues v NG Dragons, Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh Rugby, Munster v Leinster, Ospreys v Scarlets, Ulster v Connacht, Zebre v Benetton Treviso.
ROUND 12 – Weekend of Jan 3: Benetton Treviso v Zebre, Connacht v Munster, Edinburgh Rugby v Glasgow Warriors, Leinster v Ulster, NG Dragons v Cardiff Blues, Scarlets v Ospreys.
ROUND 13 – Weekend of Jan 10: Benetton Treviso v Ulster, Cardiff Blues v Leinster, Connacht v Edinburgh Rugby, Glasgow Warriors v Scarlets, Munster v Zebre, Ospreys v NG Dragons.
ROUND 14 – Weekend of Feb 14: Edinburgh Rugby v Ospreys, Leinster v NG Dragons, Munster v Cardiff Blues, Scarlets v Connacht, Ulster v Benetton Treviso, Zebre v Glasgow Warriors,
ROUND 15 – Weekend of Feb 21: Benetton Treviso v Cardiff Blues, Edinburgh Rugby v Ulster, Glasgow Warriors v Ospreys, Leinster v Zebre, NGDragons v Connacht, Scarlets v Munster.
ROUND 16 – Weekend of Feb 28: Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh Rugby, Connacht v Benetton Treviso, Munster v Glasgow Warriors, Ospreys v Leinster, Ulster v Scarlets, Zebre v NG Dragons.
ROUND 17 – Weekend of March 7: Benetton Treviso v Edinburgh Rugby, Cardiff Blues v Connacht, Glasgow Warriors v Zebre, NG Dragons v Ulster, Ospreys v Munster, Scarlets v Leinster.
ROUND 18 – Weekend of March 28: Benetton Treviso v NG Dragons, Leinster v Glasgow Warriors, Munster v Connacht, Scarlets v Edinburgh Rugby, Ulster v Cardiff Blues, Zebre v Ospreys.
ROUND 19 – Weekend of April 11: Benetton Treviso v Ospreys, Connacht v Ulster, Edinburgh Rugby v Munster, Glasgow Warriors v Cardiff Blues, NG Dragons v Leinster, Scarlets v Zebre.
ROUND 20 – Weekend of April 25: Cardiff Blues v Ospreys, Connacht v Glasgow Warriors, Edinburgh Rugby v Zebre, Munster v Benetton Treviso, NGDragons v Scarlets, Ulster v Leinster.
ROUND 21 – Weekend of May 9: Leinster v Benetton, NG Dragons v Edinburgh Rugby, Ospreys v Glasgow Warriors, Scarlets v Cardiff Blues, Ulster v Munster, Zebre v Connacht.
ROUND 22 – Weekend of May 16: Benetton Treviso v Scarlets, Cardiff Blues v Zebre, Connacht v Osprey, Edinburgh Rugby v Leinster, Glasgow Warriors v Ulster, Munster v NG Dragons.
PLAY-OFFS – Weekend of May 23.
FINAL – Weekend of May 30.