The GUINNESS PRO14 returns to action 125 days after Leinster defended their title at Celtic Park against Glasgow Warriors and set a new record of six crowns in front of the largest crowd to ever attend a Championship decider.
Now begins a 152-game marathon that will end on June 20 in Wales when the 2020 GUINNESS PRO14 final takes place at Cardiff City Stadium. With new Conference make-ups and a more intense run-in to the end of the season which now finishes in the summer, the Championship promises more drama than ever before.
The 2019/20 campaign will kick off on South African soil for the first time as the recently-crowned Currie Cup champions, the Toyota Cheetahs, take on Glasgow, last season’s beaten finalists and 2015 winners, in Bloemfontein on Friday evening.
Round 1 will also boast a full slate of neutral referee appointments, a trend that will continue to at least round 6 after the initial match official selections were made.
After recording four successive attendance highs for the PRO14 final, tickets will be limited for this season’s decider at Cardiff City Stadium. Fans are encouraged to take advantage of Early Bird prices to get the best seats at www.pro14rugby.org/final.
GUINNESS PRO14 – ROUND 1 FIXTURES:
Friday, September 27 –
Toyota Cheetahs v Glasgow Warriors, Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein, kick-off 7.05pm local time (live SuperSport 5&CSN/Premier Sports 2/eir Sport 2/DAZN)
Dave Rennie’s Glasgow team are the one of only two sides in the PRO14 to win on both their visits to Bloemfontein, but the Cheetahs are a renewed force after their Currie Cup triumph. The hosts have built steadily into the new season while Glasgow must cope with the loss of several key internationals to the Rugby World Cup. Both teams like to play expansive rugby and the high-altitude setting is guaranteed to provide an entertaining affair.
ULSTER v Ospreys, Kingspan Stadium, kick-off 7.35pm (live Premier Sports 1/eir Sport 1/DAZN)
Dan McFarland has only lost a handful of players to Ireland’s World Cup campaign and will sense an opportunity to immediately build on last season’s semi-final appearance. The Ospreys boast a strong record on opening day with one loss in their last six, however, that was away to Ulster at a venue where they have not posted a win since 2013. Allen Clarke’s men required a play-off victory to earn a place in this season’s Champions Cup and a positive result here will be needed if they are to rise up into the automatic qualification places this time around.
Saturday, September 28 –
MUNSTER v Dragons, Thomond Park, kick-off 3pm (live TG4/eir Sport 1/Free Sports/DAZN)
Another team eager to progress beyond the last-four are three-time champions Munster who will hope their young talent can see off the challenge of a Dragons side led by Dean Ryan, their new director of rugby. It is almost four years since the Welsh region recorded a victory away from Rodney Parade in the PRO14, and although Thomond Park has seen a handful of surprise raids in its history, it will take a special effort from Ryan’s charges to upset the hosts here.
Isuzu Southern Kings v Cardiff Blues, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth, kick-off 4pm local time (live SuperSport 2&CSN/eir Sport 2/Premier Sports 2/DAZN)
The Kings return to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for the opening of the 2019/20 season in a run of three initial home fixtures. The hosts have retained their squad from last year and added some new faces but will rely on director of rugby Robbi Kempson to mastermind a victory against a Cardiff team eager to improve their poor away form from early last season. Indeed, if John Mulvihill’s men want to reach this year’s PRO14 final in Cardiff, then picking up points in South Africa will be key.
Scarlets v CONNACHT, Parc y Scarlets, kick-off 5.15pm (live S4C/Premier Sports 2/TG4/DAZN)
The champions of 2017 host the title winners from 2016, and in a World Cup year fans of both teams are hoping they can take full advantage of unsettled opponents to charge ahead in the race to reach the knockout stages. Brad Mooar takes charge of his first PRO14 game for the Scarlets and goes up against second-year coach Andy Friend, who enjoyed a very positive debut campaign with Connacht. Both coaches will place their faith and attacking game-plans in the hands of young players eager to make their mark.
Benetton Rugby v LEINSTER, Stadio di Monigo, kick-off 6.15pm local time/5.15pm Irish time (live DAZN/Premier Sports 1/eir Sport 1)
Expectancy shadows Benetton after they became the first Italian team to reach the PRO14 final series. Leinster are without a host of international players, but despite Benetton’s positive results at the RDS in the past two seasons, the reigning champions are renowned for the strength of their squad. Interestingly, both Benetton and Leinster are joined by Glasgow in picking up the most points during Test windows last season despite giving up the highest amount of players to international squads.
Edinburgh v Zebre, BT Murrayfield, kick-off 7.35pm (live Premier Sports 2/eir Sport 2/DAZN)
The success of Edinburgh’s first year under Richard Cockerill did not translate into a second appearance in the knockout stages of the PRO14 last season. However, some canny recruitment this summer should allow the team to perform better when their squad is restricted by Scotland call-ups. Zebre have developed a reputation for playing a daring style of rugby with young players trusted by head coach Michael Bradley, but the forward power offered by the hosts will prove a stiff hurdle to overcome.
GUINNESS PRO14 CONFERENCES:
Conference A –
Glasgow Warriors, LEINSTER, ULSTER, Ospreys, Dragons, Zebre, Toyota Cheetahs
Conference B –
Edinburgh, MUNSTER, CONNACHT, Cardiff Blues, Scarlets, Benetton Rugby, Isuzu Southern Kings