Reigning champions Munster will launch their RaboDirect PRO12 campaign at ‘fortress’ Musgrave Park in the opening weekend of the newly named competition.
Round 1 sees the team that haven’t lost a RaboDirect PRO12 game in Cork since 10 May, 2008 (18-21 v Glasgow Warriors), 11 games ago, tackle Welsh rivals Newport Gwent Dragons on a weekend that kicks-off on Friday, 2 September.
It’s all change for the 2011/12 season with the tournament organisers changing their identity to PRO12, to reflect the growth and structure of the competition, the inclusion of two Italian franchises last season and the introduction of a Play-Off and Grand Final system.
RaboDirect, the online banking arm of Rabobank, has been announced the new title sponsor for the tournament. No strangers to sponsorship, Rabobank are now synomomous with cycling and RaboDirect in Australia have just finished their inaugural season as sponsors of the RaboDirect Melbourne Rebels.
RaboDirect has almost 80,000 customers in Ireland alone and operates in Belgium, Australia and New Zealand. They pride themselves on being the bank that does things differently so we’re looking forward to seeing what they can bring to the tournament and fans.
Mighty Munster were undefeated in 13 home matches last season as they marched to their third title, beating the 2010 champions the Ospreys in the semi-finals and then outgunning Leinster 19-9 in the Grand Final a week after the Dublin-based side had been crowned champions of Europe.
Leinster find themselves travelling to the Liberty Stadium to face the Ospreys in their opening match in what will be a re-run of the 2010 Grand Final, when the Welsh region triumphed in Dublin.
The first round will also see Edinburgh and Cardiff Blues get an early glimpse of each other as they prepare to meet again in Pool 2 of next season’s Heineken Cup. The other opening weekend fixtures see Benetton Treviso host Connacht at Stadio Monigo, Glasgow Warriors travel to Ravenhill to meet Ulster and the Scarlets entertain Aironi at Parc y Scarlets.
The RaboDirect PRO12 will continue through September and early October while the Rugby World Cup is being played in New Zealand, but there will be a two week break after Round 6 (weekend of 7 October) while the semi-finals and final of the global tournament are played.
Then it is back to business on the weekend of 28 October for Rounds 7 and 8 ahead of the opening Pool weekends of the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup. Round 8 (4 November) will see the first wave of major derby clashes as Leinster host Munster at RDS, the Dragons entertain Cardiff Blues at their re-built Rodney Parade ground and the Ospreys play the Scarlets at the Liberty Stadium.
The derbies return around Christmas and the New Year with Edinburgh kicking-off the 1872 Cup clashes with Glasgow Warriors at Murrayfield in Round 11 before heading to Glasgow for the return a week later, on the weekend of 30 December, in Round 12.
The head-to-head games between the two Italian teams start at Stadio Zaffanella in Round 11, with Aironi hosting Benetton Treviso, with the return leg coming the following weekend. In Ireland, Munster host Connacht in Round 11 before heading to Ulster, while Leinster entertain Ulster and then travel to Connacht.
The Welsh regions do battle as well, with the re-match between the Blues and Dragons taking place at Cardiff City Stadium in Round 11 and the Scarlets welcoming the Ospreys to Llanelli. The following weekend the Dragons host the Scarlets and the Ospreys face the Blues.
There will be two rounds of matches played during the 2012 RBS 6 Nations, Round 14 (10 February) and Round 16 (24 February) with the final round, Round 22, being played on the weekend of 4 May, 2012.
The RaboDirect PRO12 Play-Offs, between the top four finishing teams in the regular season, will take place on the weekend of 11 May and the RaboDirect PRO12 Grand Final will be on Saturday, 26 May, 2012.