Ulster's start to the 2010-11 Magners League campaign will see them go head-to-head with the defending champions, followed a week later by a clash with one of the two new Italian amalgams admitted to the competition for the first time.
Tommy Bowe and his Ospreys colleagues, who created history last season by becoming the first club ever to have won three Magners League titles, will be at Ravenhill on Friday, September 3.
In most cases, however, specific dates have still to be finalised with that being done in conjunction with the television companies’ requirements.
What a curtain-raiser that opening fixture promises to be, with new-look Ulster — beefed up for 2010/11 by three Springbok signings — able to measure themselves against opponents who produced a great late surge at the end of last season, culminating in their 17-12 Grand Final victory over Leinster at the RDS in May.
Ospreys’ splendid run-in included a 38-27 win at Ravenhill.
After playing the Ospreys, Ulster will be off to Italy the following weekend for their first ever Magners League date with newcomers, Aironi.
That will be the first of four meetings in 2010/11 with these particular Italians, Ulster and Aironi also having been drawn in the same Heineken Cup pool.
Edinburgh will be at Ravenhill for the third round of fixtures (September 17-19), following which Ulster make the trek west to Galway for a Sportsground date with Connacht in what will be the first of the season’s inter-provincial derbies (September 24-26).
Ulster will host Munster in the final weekend of October, with Leinster due in Belfast at Christmas (December 24-26).
The first of the only other two dates specified at this point is December 31 when Ulster will be in action away to Munster.
The other two Irish provinces will be at Ravenhill for Ulster’s last two home matches of the campaign. Leinster will be the guests on April 15-17, with Connacht due in Belfast the following weekend.
With Aironi and Treviso in the
mix that means 12 teams in the Magners League for the first time since 2003/04 when Welsh rugby went regional.
This means four additional matches in the league phase of the tournament and that — in addition to five rather than four autumn internationals in November — will make for a very tightly packed season.
To accommodate this schedule, Magners League games will be played during the international window in November and also during the RBS 6 Nations Championship. That’s a first.
The 22-week Magners League season runs all the way through until May 6, with all games in the final round of matches kicking off simultaneously to ensure that no advantage in the battles for play-off places or European qualification. Once again the top four teams will progress to the play-off semi finals (weekend May 13). The Magners League Grand Final will be played on Saturday, May 28.
The TV partners for the 2010/11 season are BBC NI, RTE, TG4 (Ireland), and BBC Wales and S4C.