18 May, 11:09
IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne has issued a statement following confirmation of Ronan O'Gara's decision to retire from playing professional rugby.
Llanelli Scarlets captain Simon Easterby feels there is no better way for his side to begin the new Magners League than with a trip to champions Ulster.
The Welsh region's away form let them down last season but the fresh approach of new director of rugby Phil Davies and two recent friendly wins over Northampton and Gloucester has given the Stradey Park side renewed heart.
So too the return of Wales' first choice out-half Stephen Jones from his stint with Clermont Auvergne. His half-back partnership with Dwayne Peel will be key to how the Scarlets progress throughout the season.
Easterby, who missed Ireland's summer tour due to injury, will also sit out the Scarlets' league opener against Ulster on Saturday (Ravenhill, kick-off 7.30pm), but reckons his men could shock the cup holders.
"It's important that we get off to a good start and it will pay to play Ulster first," said the 49-cap flanker, who sustained a head injury against Gloucester last weekend.
"If you look at the last four seasons, the four winners pretty much had four wins from four in their opening games. Last year we won only once in our first four games, and we must get off to a better start. What better way than beating Ulster at home.
"They are going to be up there again this season. It's great for us to have them first, because we will find out exactly where we are.
"Ulster will be resting their Irish internationals who toured Australia and New Zealand for the first few weeks (of the league), but they are the champions and we don't have to get up for a game like this, everybody is going is going to want to play in Belfast," he told the Western Mail.
Easterby is particularly pleased with how the Scarlets' new regime has gone so far - incredibly Davies is the Welsh side's first new coach in 24 years after Gareth Jenkins' promotion to the national job.
"He is obviously going to be building on what Gareth put in place, but Phil will stamp his mark on the way the Scarlets play," added the 31-year-old, whose last Ireland cap came in the Triple Crown win over England in March.
"He was a player here for many years, so this is nothing knew to him. He realises the passion and what makes things tick down here.
"The players have really responded well to him and we are very happy with our squad. Time will tell, but we really feel we can achieve something this year."