Introducing 6 ‘Big Weekends’ for the fans and creating ‘appointment-to-view’ kick-off times across games weekends.
Reigning champions Connacht will open up their campaign against 2014/15 winners Glasgow Warriors at The Sportsground as the Guinness PRO12 prepares for its biggest season yet.
Connacht’s exciting and open brand of rugby helped them to clinch their first-ever Guinness PRO12 title last season, though the Warriors will be out for revenge after being beaten by the Irish province in last season’s semi-final.
New for the forthcoming 2016/17 season, Championship organisers have designated six ‘Big Weekends’ across the season that will comprise of special intra-union derby matches as well as capitalising on the rivalry between the Italian and Scottish clubs.
The ‘Big Weekends’ will include signature match-ups such as the 1872 Cup Scottish derby, the annual Leinster versus Munster game at the Aviva Stadium, the Italian derby and the double header Judgement Day spectacular between the Welsh Regions.
It will all kick off on Friday, September 2 as the opening games of the first weekend will be played at the new regular ‘appointment-to-view’ time of 19:35. To ensure fans know where to catch the action, the majority of Friday evening matches will take place at this time during the season.
Elsewhere in Round 1, last year’s finalists Leinster Rugby welcome Benetton Rugby Treviso to the RDS in Dublin, and 2016 European Player of the Year nominee Charles Piutau could appear in an Ulster shirt for the first time at home to Newport Gwent Dragons.
Munster open up their campaign with a trip to Scarlets, Cardiff Blues entertain Edinburgh Rugby and Zebre Rugby will head to the Ospreys.
The first ‘Big Weekend’ round will take place in Round 6 with the clash between Leinster and Munster at the Aviva Stadium headlining a weekend that also includes Connacht v Ulster, Scarlets v Dragons, Ospreys v Cardiff Blues, Edinburgh v Treviso and Zebre v Glasgow.
There are also two back-to-back Big Weekends during the festive season in Round 11 and Round 12. And the regular season will end with ‘Super Saturday’ and six big intra-union matches in Round 22 and include the second and final leg of the 1872 Cup between Edinburgh and the Warriors at BT Murrayfield. All Round 22 games will kick-off simultaneously to see who makes it through to the all-important Semi Finals.
“We are delighted to announce the fixture list, as well as the designated broadcasters for the first 13 rounds, ahead of what promises to be a truly special Guinness PRO12 season,” said Martin Anayi, managing director of PRO12 Rugby.
“After listening to feedback from both the clubs and fans, we have been able to take initial steps to restructure our season that puts the emphasis on creating the best experience possible for supporters.
“With 70 of the first 78 matches scheduled for live television, we have more free-to-air matches than ever before, while the majority of Friday night fixtures will be at the regular timeslot of 19:35, which our fans tell us is their preferred slot.
“What is even more exciting is that, in Wales, we have managed to open a weekly Saturday evening slot on S4C – with the amount of Sunday games reduced to just three across the whole season – including two on New Year’s Day. Again this is something the fans in Wales had been asking us for and we are happy we could get it in place for this season. I would like to thank Sky Sports for their help in facilitating this change, as well as the continued support of all our broadcast partners including BBC Cymru Wales, BBC Alba, BBC Northern Ireland and TG4.
“Our aim is to develop a schedule that puts the fan experience first and gives our clubs the best chance of bumper crowds coming to watch our star players in the biggest games of the season. Now our fans will get to experience big weekend atmospheres with mouth-watering fixtures spread across the whole season.
“For example, we have ensured that all teams have a home match in either Round 1 or 2, and in one of the last two rounds. Also, no club has three consecutive home or away matches – lending the competition a far better balance.”
The Championship will climax on Saturday, 27 May 2017 with the Guinness PRO12 Final – the venue, city and ticket information for this flagship event will be announced in due course.