If round 1 is anything to go by, BKT United Rugby Championship fans are in for an exciting season ahead.
This weekend, two South African teams will start their two-week tour up north. The Cell C Sharks travel to Zebre Parma, and the Ospreys welcome the Emirates Lions to Swansea.
On Friday night, Glasgow Warriors entertain Cardiff, while Leinster face Italian opposition for the second week running, tackling Benetton at the RDS.
Fresh from winning the first interprovincial derby of the new season, Ulster are off to Llanelli to play the Scarlets on Saturday.
Connacht have travelled to South Africa to begin their early-season two-game tour. The DHL Stormers, last season’s champions, are first up in Stellenbosch on Saturday as they kick off their title defence.
With Bundee Aki, Finlay Bealham, Mack Hansen and Cian Prendergast bolstering the travelling party, Connacht head coach Peter Wilkins said: “It’s great to have them and to have them available for selection is brilliant.
“They will add quality to the group but they will also get more quality out of the other players. For sure we could have played better (in Belfast), so there’s plenty of learning to take from it.
“It is a good time to go (to South Africa) as we’re going over with fresh bodies off the back of pre-season and not going at the end of the season like we did last year where sometimes it can be tough to get up emotionally and physical for it.
“The Stormers will bring massive physicality as all the South Africans do. We’ve identified a few areas where we can go after them. I think it will be an exciting game as you have two teams with exciting back-lines.”
Edinburgh travel to Pretoria to face last season’s beaten finalists, the Vodacom Bulls, and Munster have a quick return to Wales to meet the Dragons on Sunday afternoon.
Munster forwards coach Andi Kyriacou commented: “We understand as a group that there are areas individually we all need to work on and sharpen up on (following last week’s defeat to Cardiff). That’ll come the more we play together.
“We’ll get our timings together and we’ll get that feel of what players will do instinctively as well, and how we can support that. That’ll definitely add to more accuracy around our catch-pass.
“In terms of the team, it’s going to take some time for us to bed these things in, and the great thing about it is we have a good, nice long week to put right some of them things, work on it, keep improving, so our performance keeps improving at the weekend.”
BKT UNITED RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 2 FIXTURES:
Friday, September 23 –
Zebre Parma (9th) v Cell C Sharks (11th), Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, 6.30pm (live FreeSports/Eurosport 2 (Italy)/discovery+/URC.tv)
Glasgow Warriors (14th) v Cardiff Rugby (6th), Scotstoun Stadium, 7.35pm (live Premier Sports 2/discovery+/URC.tv)
LEINSTER (4th) v Benetton Rugby (3rd), the RDS, 7.35pm (live TG4/FreeSports/discovery+/URC.tv)
Saturday, September 24 –
Scarlets (8th) v ULSTER (2nd), Parc y Scarlets, 1pm (live Premier Sports 1/discovery+/URC.tv)
DHL Stormers (12th) v CONNACHT (15th), Danie Craven Stadium, 2.30pm local time/1.30pm Irish time (live RTÉ 2/FreeSports/discovery+/URC.tv)
Vodacom Bulls (5th) v Edinburgh (1st), Loftus Versfeld, 2.30pm (live Premier Sports 2/discovery+/URC.tv)
Ospreys (7th) v Emirates Lions (13th), Swansea.com Stadium, 7.35pm (live S4C/Premier Sports 2/discovery+/URC.tv)
Sunday, September 25 –
Dragons (16th) v MUNSTER (10th), Rodney Parade, 3pm (live RTÉ 2/BBC One Wales/Premier Sports 2/discovery+/URC.tv)