The 2010/11 Magners League fixtures have been announced. Three of the four Irish provinces, Connacht, Munster and Ulster, will open their campaign with home ties, while Leinster are away to last season’s beaten semi-finalists Glasgow Warriors for their first game.
The Ospreys will open their Magners League title defence with a trip to Tommy Bowe’s old stomping ground, Ravenhill, when they face Ulster on the first weekend of the new season.
Also heading to Ireland in round 1 will be the other Italian newcomers Aironi Rugby, who will play the first competitive match in their history against Munster in either Cork or Limerick.
That game will mean a quick-fire return to Munster for number 8 Nick Williams, who was one of the big summer signings for the new Italian franchise.
Grand final runners-up Leinster travel to another of the play-off sides last season, Glasgow Warriors, on the opening weekend, and then host Cardiff Blues at the RDS in round 2
Connacht, under new head coach Eric Elwood, will start with a home game against the Newport Gwent Dragons and then travel to Wales to play the Scarlets in round 2.
Leinster hit the road for rounds 3 and 4 away to Benetton Treviso and Edinburgh, and round 5 will see them renew old rivalries with Munster on the first weekend in October.
Round 4 will see Connacht at home to provincial rivals Ulster at the Sportsground at the end of September.
Ulster will get an early chance to test the mettle of their Heineken Cup pool opponents Aironi when they travel to Stadio Zafanella in round 2. They host Edinbrugh in Ravenhill a week later before the trip to Galway.
Munster are on the road in round 2 as they travel to Edinburgh, then returning home to face the defending champions, the Ospreys, and after that it is back to Scotland to play Glasgow.
The increase in numbers, with the addition of the two Italian sides, means there will be four extra rounds of matches in the league phase of the competition.
In order to accommodate this, some games are scheduled to be played during the international windows in November and while the RBS 6 Nations Championship is being played.
The 22 round league season kicks off on the first weekend in September and runs through until the weekend of May 6, 2011.
All games in round 22 will kick-off simultaneously to ensure that no teams have advantage when vying for play-off places or European qualification.
The top four teams in the regular season will once again progress to the semi-finals, which will be held on the weekend of May 13. The Magners League grand final will be played on the weekend of May 27.
At this stage, the fixtures are weekend only dates. Specific dates, kick-off times and in some cases, venues, will be released after consultation with the individual teams and the Magners League broadcast partners.
The TV partners for the 2010/11 season will include BBC ALBA (Scotland), BBC Northern Ireland, RTE and TG4 (Ireland), as well as long standing Welsh broadcasters BBC Wales and S4C.