With the start of the GUINNESS PRO14 season just around the corner, the first fixtures list for the newly-expanded Championship has been revealed.
The highly-anticipated fixture announcement follows the announcement that the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings have joined the GUINNESS PRO14 and that the Championship will move to a Conference format.
Martin Anayi, CEO of PRO14 Rugby, commented: “Our expansion into South Africa has the future of the Championship at its heart – more sustainable clubs, attracting the best players, taking on different styles of rugby and entertaining the fans from whistle to whistle – and the release of these fixtures aims to immediately deliver on that.
“With all the exciting news that has surrounded the unveiling of the GUINNESS PRO14, we know the fans have been eager to see the fixture list, but hopefully the wait has been worthwhile as we believe these fixtures will further enhance the excitement across each of the Championship’s five territories.”
The new season opens on the evening of Friday, September 1 as Ulster, who have added Jono Gibbes, Dwayne Peel and Aaron Dundon to their coaching team, take on the Toyota Cheetahs at Kingspan Stadium – live on BBC 2 Northern Ireland. The game will also be screened live in South Africa (broadcaster to be confirmed in the coming days). Last season’s beaten finalists Munster will host Benetton Rugby in Cork on the same night.
The next day sees the Scarlets, the reigning champions, welcome the Southern Kings to Parc y Scarlets, live on Sky Sports. Last season the Kings scored notable away wins in Super Rugby against the Bulls and the Waratahs and will be eager to make an early statement against a Welsh team packed full of international talent.
Kieran Keane’s first PRO14 match in charge of Connacht will see them bring round 1 to a close by hosting Glasgow Warriors at the Sportsground on Saturday, September 2. A few hours earlier, Leinster will be trying to outdo some familiar faces – new Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman and full-back/winger Zane Kirchner – when they visit Rodney Parade for their opening match.
All existing derby games have been protected in the new Conference format, while Italian, Scottish and South African teams have the bonus of playing a total of three derbies each against their domestic rivals.
The GUINNESS PRO12 featured 295 internationals during the 2016/17 campaign, and for the forthcoming Championship season, organisers of the PRO14 have worked closely with each of the Unions to ensure that where possible derby games do not clash with international call-ups.
Rounds 6 and 7 of the 2017/18 season fall either side of the European window and will see big derbies for the Irish and Welsh teams, with Munster visiting Leinster in Round 6 at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium and the Scarlets hosting Cardiff Blues in round 7. Scottish and Italian clubs will face off against each other in rounds 11 to 13, along with further derbies for the Welsh and Irish teams in rounds 11 and 12.
To close the season, fans from all the regions will be treated to a round of full-blooded derby action on ‘Super Saturday’ in round 21. Judgement Day returns to the Principality Stadium in Cardiff to add something truly special to the final day of regular season action.
The GUINNESS PRO14 final series will begin on May 4 with the quarter-final stages and the semi-finals are slated for May 18. The two teams who emerge from these fixtures will meet in the GUINNESS PRO14’s showpiece final on Saturday, May 26.
Anayi added: “Working closely the clubs, Unions and broadcast partners, who turned this schedule around very quickly, we believe we have created a calendar which will give fans the best experience possible to enjoy all of the positive play’ that the PRO14 prides itself on. Fans will be able to enjoy the fiercest rivalries, best international players and biggest variety of playing styles on offer in the history of the Championship.”