Three of the four inaugural 2010 Magners League Play-Off teams will kick-start the new season on Friday, 3 September when they meet at Ravenhill and Firhill Stadium.
The Ospreys, who are the reigning Magners League champions, will travel to Belfast to meet Ulster in the first of at least five games to be broadcast live over the opening weekend, while Glasgow Warriors will host 2010 Grand Final runners-up Leinster.
Both games will be televised by two of the tournament’s new broadcast partners, BBC N. Ireland and BBC ALBA, and no fewer than 17 of the opening 24 fixtures in the first month of the season will be screened live.
BBC Wales and S4C will continue to provide their extensive live coverage in Wales, but new deals in Ireland and Scotland have greatly enhanced the opportunity for fans of the Magners League to tune into the games.
Terrestrial broadcasters RTE and TG4 will cover the four Irish provinces, while BBC N. Ireland will screen all of Ulster’s home fixtures. BBC ALBA, who have signed a four year deal with Celtic Rugby, will show a minimum of eight Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors home games, as well as selected away fixtures.
“I always enjoy returning to Belfast and playing at Ravenhill because I had such a great time playing with Ulster. But it will be a tough place to start the defence of our Magners League title,” said the Ospreys’ Irish international wing Tommy Bowe.
“There's never an easy game there, so we know that we will have to hit the ground running if we are going to get anything from the game. We had some good results in Ireland last season, culminating in winning the title against Leinster at the RDS.
“We had a run of three games in Ireland in April that in the end proved instrumental in us reaching the Play-Offs, giving us the belief to go back to the RDS and do the job in the final at Leinster.
“We also have to travel to Thomond Park in the first month of the season and although we managed to get a vital win out there in April, I’m sure Munster will make it pretty tough for us again.”
Bowe scored the vital fourth try to clinch a bonus point against Ulster in his side’s 38-27 victory at Ravenhill four months ago and the man who was voted both Irish and Welsh Player of the Year is hoping to help drive his team further forward as the Magners League expands to 12 teams this season.
“The introduction of the two, beefed-up Italian teams is going to make the league stronger and more interesting. We have a lot of international players at the Ospreys, but there is also a rich seam of young talent waiting to emerge,” added Bowe,
“Those youngsters, and the squad depth, are certainly going to be needed over the course of the season. We face the two Italian teams at home in the opening month and it will be interesting to see the impact they have in the competition. Both sides have recruited heavily over the summer and will be keen to get off to a good start.
“Having played Italian sides in recent seasons we appreciate how the game is growing over there, and will certainly be taking nothing for granted against either Benetton Treviso or Aironi Rugby.”
Benetton will beat Aironi into action by 25 minutes on their respective Magners League debuts on Saturday, 4 September, when they both usher in a brave new era for professional rugby in Italy.
Round 3 will see the first of the big Welsh derby matches when Cardiff Blues host Newport Gwent Dragons on Saturday, 18 September (live on S4C at 18.30) and Leinster will look to make it four wins in a row in the tournament over arch-rivals Munster when they meet in Dublin in Round 5 on Saturday, 2 October (live on TG4 at 19.30).
The Christmas and New Year fixtures will see the first of the derby clashes between the Italian newcomers, with Benetton hosting Aironi at Stadio Monigo on Christmas Eve, Friday, 24 December. The return is scheduled for New Years Eve, a week later.
The 1872 Cup clashes between Scottish rivals Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh will start at Firhill Stadium on Monday, 27 December (live on BBS ALBA at 19.05) and resume at Murrayfield on Sunday, 2 January, 2011 (live on BBA ALBA at 17.35).
With the Magners League teams rising back to12 this season it means there will be league matches played during both the November international window and the RBS 6 Nations period.
Round 8, which is split between the weekends of 5 and 19 November, and Round 9, on the last weekend in the month, will coincide with international matches in all four nations, while there will be full league programmes, Rounds 14 and 16, on the second and third weekends of the 2011 RBS 6 Nations.