It is that time of the year again when the provinces begin their assaults on the Magners League title. This season’s competition sees the introduction of a play-off system where the top four finishers in the table will go forward to duel it out in the semi-finals and final in May.
The 2009/10 Magners League season kicks off on Friday night with one of the highlights being Cardiff Blues’ first competition fixture at their new stadium when they play last season’s runners-up, Edinburgh.
The Blues have moved a mile-and-a-half across the Welsh capital to join forces with Cardiff City FC at the new, 26,000 all-seater Cardiff City Stadium.
Elsewhere on Friday night, the Ospreys travel to the Sportsground in Galway to face Connacht looking for a repeat of the victory they claimed in the same fixture last season.
Title holders Munster head north to begin the defence of their title against Glasgow Warriors at Firhill Arena.
Munster will be hoping it will be third time lucky as the then reigning champions have lost their opening game in the last two seasons.
On Saturday, Leinster are the visitors at Parc y Scarlets – the European champions have won on their last two visits to Llanelli.
The round wraps up on Sunday with the fixture between Newport Gwent Dragons and Ulster with the visitors looking for their first victory at Rodney Parade in three years.
This season’s Magners League will welcome ‘home’ British & Irish Lions Chris Cusiter (Glasgow) and Nathan Hines (Leinster) from sojourns in France, as well as another 2005 Lion, Gareth Cooper (Blues).
They will boost to 37 the number of Lions players from 2001, 2005 and 2009 playing in the Magners League.
There will also be a sprinkling of top overseas talent to blend with the homegrown stars.
New Zealand legend Jerry Collins has joined the Ospreys, while current Springbok centre Jean de Villiers is on his way to Munster at the end of the Tri Nations series.
Australian international out-half Sam Norton-Knight has joined the Blues, as has former All Black centre Casey Laulala, while French international prop Julien Brugnaut has headed to Munster.
Canadian World Cup star DTH van der Merwe has signed for Glasgow and former Brumbies and Western Force flanker Tamaiti Horua is Ulster-bound.
MAGNERS LEAGUE – ROUND 1 FIXTURES:
Friday, September 4 –
CONNACHT v Ospreys, the Sportsground, 7pm
Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh, Cardiff City Staidum, 7.05pm (live BBC Wales)
Glasgow Warriors v MUNSTER, Firhill Arena, 8pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland)
Saturday, September 5 –
Scarlets v LEINSTER, Parc y Scarlets, 6.30pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland/S4C)
Sunday, September 6 –
Newport Gwent Dragons v ULSTER, Rodney Parade, 2.05pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland/BBC Wales)