Three of the four inaugural 2010 Magners League play-off teams will kickstart the new season on Friday, September 3 when they meet at Ravenhill and Firhill Stadium.
The Ospreys, who are the reigning Magners League champions, will travel to Belfast to meet Ulster in the first of at least five games to be broadcast live over the opening weekend, while Glasgow Warriors will host 2010 Grand final runners-up Leinster.
Both games will be televised by two of the tournament’s new broadcast partners, BBC Northern Ireland and BBC ALBA, and no fewer than 17 of the opening 24 fixtures in the first month of the season will be screened live.
BBC Wales and S4C will continue to provide their extensive live coverage in Wales, but new deals in Ireland and Scotland have greatly enhanced the opportunity for fans of the Magners League to tune into the games.
Terrestrial broadcasters RTE and TG4 will cover the four Irish provinces, while BBC Northern Ireland will screen all of Ulster’s home fixtures.
BBC ALBA, who have signed a four-year deal with Celtic Rugby, will show a minimum of eight Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors home games, as well as selected away fixtures.
Looking forward to the new campaign, the Ospreys’ Irish winger Tommy Bowe said: “I always enjoy returning to Belfast and playing at Ravenhill because I had such a great time playing with Ulster. But it will be a tough place to start the defence of our Magners League title.
“There’s never an easy game there, so we know that we will have to hit the ground running if we are going to get anything from the game.
“We had some good results in Ireland last season, culminating in winning the title against Leinster at the RDS.
“We had a run of three games in Ireland in April that in the end proved instrumental in us reaching the play-offs, giving us the belief to go back to the RDS and do the job in the final at Leinster.
“We also have to travel to Thomond Park in the first month of the season and although we managed to get a vital win out there in April, I’m sure Munster will make it pretty tough for us again.”
Bowe scored the vital fourth try to clinch a bonus point against Ulster in his side’s 38-27 victory at Ravenhill four months ago and the man who was voted both Irish and Welsh Player of the Year is hoping to help drive his team further forward as the Magners League expands to 12 teams this season.
“The introduction of the two, beefed-up Italian teams is going to make the league stronger and more interesting. We have a lot of international players at the Ospreys, but there is also a rich seam of young talent waiting to emerge,” added Bowe.
“Those youngsters, and the squad depth, are certainly going to be needed over the course of the season.
“We face the two Italian teams at home in the opening month and it will be interesting to see the impact they have in the competition. Both sides have recruited heavily over the summer and will be keen to get off to a good start.
“Having played Italian sides in recent seasons we appreciate how the game is growing over there, and will certainly be taking nothing for granted against either Benetton Treviso or Aironi Rugby.”
Treviso will beat Aironi into action by 25 minutes on their respective Magners League debuts on Saturday, September 4, when they both usher in a brave new era for professional rugby in Italy.
Round 3 will see the first of the big Welsh derby matches when Cardiff Blues host the Newport Gwent Dragons on Saturday, September 18 (live on S4C at 6.30pm) and Leinster will look to make it four wins in-a-row in the tournament over arch rivals Munster when they meet in Dublin in round 5 on Saturday, October 2 (live on TG4 at 7.30pm).
The Christmas and New Year fixtures will see the first of the derby clashes between the Italian newcomers, with Benetton Treviso hosting Aironi at Stadio Monigo on Friday, December 24. The return is scheduled for New Year’s Eve, a week later.
The 1872 Cup clashes between Scottish rivals Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh will start at Firhill Stadium on Monday, December 27 (live on BBC ALBA at 7.05pm) and resume at Murrayfield on Sunday, January 2 (live on BBC ALBA at 5.35pm).
With the Magners League teams rising back to12 this season, it means there will be league matches played during both the November international window and the Six Nations period.
Round 8, which is split between the weekends of November 5 and 19, and round 9, on the last weekend in the month, will coincide with international matches in all four nations, while there will be full league programmes – rounds 14 and 16 – on the second and third weekends of the 2011 Six Nations Championship.
2010/11 MAGNERS LEAGUE OPENING FIXTURES:
ROUND 1 –
Friday, September 3, 7.05pm – Glasgow Warriors v Leinster, Firhill Stadium (BBC ALBA)
Friday, September 3, 7.05pm – Ulster v Ospreys, Ravenhill (BBC NI)
Saturday, September 4, 7.05pm – Benetton Treviso v Scarlets, Stadio Monigo
Saturday, September 4, 6.30pm – Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh, Cardiff City Stadium (S4C)
Saturday, September 4, 5.30pm – Connacht v Newport Gwent Dragons, the Sportsground (TG4)
Saturday, September 4, 7.30pm – Munster v Aironi Rugby, Musgrave Park (RTE)
ROUND 2 –
Friday, September 10, 7.05pm – Edinburgh v Munster, Murrayfield (BBC ALBA)
Friday, September 10, 7.05pm – Ospreys v Benetton Treviso, Liberty Stadium (BBC W)
Saturday, September 11, 7.05pm – Aironi Rugby v Ulster, Stadio Zaffanella
Saturday, September 11, 6.30pm – Leinster v Cardiff Blues, the RDS (RTE)
Saturday, September 11, 3pm – Scarlets v Connacht, Parc y Scarlets
Sunday, September 12, 4.10pm – Newport Gwent Dragons v Glasgow Warriors, Rodney Parade (S4C)
ROUND 3 –
Friday, September 17, 7.30pm – Glasgow Warriors v Connacht, Firhill Stadium
Friday, September 17, 8.05pm – Scarlets v Aironi Rugby, Parc y Scarlets (BBC W)
Friday, September 17, 8.05pm – Ulster v Edinburgh, Ravenhill (BBC NI)
Saturday, September 18, 7.05pm – Benetton Treviso v Leinster, Stadio Monigo
Saturday, September 18, 6.30pm – Cardiff Blues v Newport Gwent Dragons, Cardiff City Stadium (S4C)
Saturday, September 18, 8pm – Munster v Ospreys, Thomond Park (RTE)
ROUND 4 –
Friday, September 24, 7.05pm – Benetton Treviso v Cardiff Blues, Stadio Monigo
Friday, September 24, 7.05pm – Edinburgh Rugby v Leinster, Murrayfield (BBC ALBA)
Friday, September 24, 7.30pm – Glasgow Warriors v Munster, Firhill Stadium
Friday, September 24, 7.05pm – Newport Gwent Dragons v Scarlets, Rodney Parade (BBC W)
Saturday, September 25, 7.30pm – Connacht v Ulster, the Sportsground (TG4)
Saturday, September 25, 6.30pm – Ospreys v Aironi Rugby, Liberty Stadium (S4C)
All kick-off times are local time. The fixture list includes host broadcasters only. Secondary Broadcasters are to be added.