The Guinness PRO14 returns to action this weekend as a new era begins for the Championship.
For the opening weekend of action games will take place in across three countries – Italy, Ireland and Wales – with plenty of eye-catching match-ups for fans to feast on now that every game will be broadcast live in the UK by Premier Sports and Free Sports.
The season may only be beginning but all sides will have their hopes on reaching the Guinness PRO14 Final on May 25 which will take place at Celtic Park in Glasgow – the first time the showpiece decider will be played outside of a rugby venue. However, fans can book their places now by visiting bitly.com/Glasgow2019 to get their hands on the best seats available.
What’s at Stake?
On Friday night Richard Cockerill takes his Edinburgh team to Liberty Stadium to face Ospreys (19.35). Edinburgh reached the Guinness PRO14 Final Series for the first time last season and have lost just once on the opening weekend since 2013, however, they have not beaten the four-time champions in Swansea since 2009.
It is the clash of European champions as the Challenge Cup winners host the Champions Cup holders in the heart of the Welsh capital. Cardiff Blues enter the season buoyed with optimism as they face a Leinster team that arrives off the back of a Guinness PRO14 and European Cup double (19:35). The Blues begin the season with Australian John Mulvihill in charge and he will immediately aim to record his side’s first win over Leinster since 2011 while the visitors are also without a road win in four games.
The first game of the season in Italy takes place in Parma where Zebre Rugby Club play host to the newly christened Isuzu Southern Kings at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi. Coached by Michael Bradley, the hosts claimed their highest total of wins last season (7) but face a reinvigorated Kings team eager to set new standards.
Saturday’s first game of the day takes place at The Sportsground in Galway where Andy Friend takes charge of Connacht for the first time against Glasgow Warriors (15:00). It’s a meeting of the 2015 and 2016 champions and the third season in a row that they have met on the opening weekend with Warriors twice leaving as victors.
Following the action in Galway, the Toyota Cheetahs first game of the season comes against Munster at Thomond Park (17:15). Munster are coached by South African Johann van Graan and were one of the few teams to beat the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last season, however, the visitors will be eager to avoid a repeat of their heavy loss here in Round 2 in 2017.
At Kingspan Stadium Ulster face Scarlets with their new head coach Dan McFarland in charge for the first time (17:15). Scarlets, who lost six times to Irish opposition last season, face an Ulster team who have only ever lost once in the opening round of the Championship, but with title aspirations on their minds the Welsh region will want to buck the trend in Belfast.
Dragons open up their campaign at Rodney Parade against Benetton Rugby with the Italians fresh from record number of wins (11) last season. Head coach Bernard Jackman has brought in a number of new signings while Kieran Crowley has consolidated at Benetton and should have aspirations to challenge for the Guinness PRO14 Final Series this season.
OSPREYS v EDINBURGH
At Liberty Stadium, Swansea, 7.35pm.
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU, 71st competition game)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher (IRFU), Wayne Davies (WRU) Citing Commissioner: Ray Wilton (WRU)
TMO: Tim Hayes (WRU)
Overall Guinness PRO14 head to head record:
- Ospreys Rugby’s only round 1 defeat since 2012 was on a trip to Ulster in 2015.
- The Welshmen concluded last season with just one win in their last four matches – against The Blues at Principality Stadium on Judgement Day.
- Ospreys have won their last five matches at Liberty Stadium in the Guinness PRO14.
- The Welshmen lost all three matches they played against Scottish opponents last season.
- Edinburgh Rugby have lost only once on the opening weekend since 2013, on a visit to The Blues in 2016.
- The Scotsmen were defeated by Munster in the Guinness PRO14 Play-Offs last season, but in the regular season their only reversal in the last nine rounds was at home to Ulster in early April.
- Edinburgh won on two of their three visits to Wales last season.
- Edinburgh’s 37-10 victory at Myreside in round 8 last season ended an Ospreys three game winning streak in this fixture.
- Edinburgh have not been victorious at Liberty Stadium since April 2009.