Preview: Pro12, Round One
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The road to the Pro12 Final in Dublin on May 27, 2017 begins this weekend.
The new season opens up with Connacht defending their title which they won against Leinster just three months ago.
Last year saw a historic season where positive play was the hallmark of the Championship as the Pro12 saw the fewest penalties conceded of all three top European leagues and the tournament also registered a decade-high 602 tries in the regular season.
On Saturday, defending champions Connacht will host 2015 title winners Glasgow Warriors, where the lively atmosphere of The Sportsground will provide an animated backdrop of colour and passion to this season opener.
It will be the third successive fixture between the two teams in Galway - after Connacht and Glasgow Warriors met there in Round 22 last season and in the play-offs two weeks later.
Both encounters provided high-quality and drama in equal measure with no more than seven points the difference in each game.
We look at Round One!
Friday, September 2
LEINSTER v BENETTON TREVISO
(RDS Arena - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Leinster's only victory in their last eight season-opening fixtures in the Pro12 was 42-19 at Scarlets in 2013.
However, they have not begun the season with a home game since beating Edinburgh at the RDS Arena in 2007.
The Leinstermen have won their last thirteen home games in the Pro12 since drawing 34-all with Glasgow Warriors at the RDS in March 2015.
Benetton Treviso have just twice before begun a Pro12 season with a victory, at home against Scarlets in 2010 and Ospreys in 2012.
The Italians only victory in their last seven fixtures in the Championship was 22-21 at home to Connacht in Round 21.
Treviso have not won away from home since their short trip to Zebre in December 2014.
Leinster are unbeaten in their last eleven matches against Treviso, whilst their only defeat to an Italian side in the Pro12 came in Treviso in September 2010.
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Zane Kirchner, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Fergus McFadden, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Luke McGrath (captain), 8 Dan Leavy, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Dominic Ryan, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Bryan Byrne, 1 Cian Healy .
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Andrew Porter, 18 Mike Ross, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Cathal Marsh, 23 Rory O'Loughlin.
Treviso: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Andrea Buondonno, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Giorgio Bronzini, 8 Alessandro Zanni (captain), 7 Marco Lazzaroni, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Roberto Santamaria, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Dean Budd, 20 Marco Barbini, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 David Odiete.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Sean Brickell (Wales), Joy Nevill (Ireland)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
OSPREYS v ZEBRE
(Liberty Stadium - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Ospreys 26-46 reversal to Ulster at Liberty Stadium in round 22 of last season's Pro12 ended a three-game winning run in the Championship.
Ospreys have never lost at home to an Italian opponent, achieving a bonus point victory in their last six such contests and conceding just a single losing bonus point, to Zebre, in a 16-15 victory at Liberty Stadium in January 2013.
Zebre were victorious (47-22) against Newport Gwent Dragons in Parma in round 22 of the Pro12 and are attempting to achieve successive victories in the Championship for the first time since the New Year.
Zebre's only victory outside of Italy in the Pro12 came on a trip to Cardiff Blues in September 2013.
Ospreys only previous defeat to Zebre was 27-30 in Parma on 1 May 2014, whilst the Welshmen have achieved a bonus point victory on the three most recent occasions.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Tom Habberfield (captain), 8 Tyler Ardron, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Gustafson, 17 Paul James, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Ben John, 23 Dafydd Howells.
Zebre: 15 Kurt Baker, 14 Lloyd Greeff, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Gabriele Di Giulio, 10 Edoardo Padovani, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 7 Maxime Mbandà, 6 Jacopo Sarto, 5 George Biagi (captain), 4 Federico Ruzza, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Tommaso D'Apice, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Fabio Semenzato, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Tommaso Boni.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Stuart Gaffikin (Ireland), Gareth Newman (Wales)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
ULSTER v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS
(Kingspan Stadium - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Ulster have lost just once on the opening weekend of the Pro12 since 2009: 8-15 to the Dragons in Newport in 2013.
The Ulstermen were defeated by Leinster in Dublin in last season's semifinals, but finished the regular season with a run of four straight victories.
Newport Gwent Dragons are in the midst of their worst ever sequence of results in the Pro12.
They lost their last 10 encounters since beating Leinster at Rodney Parade on 29 January, whilst their most recent away win in the Championship came on a trip to Treviso in March 2015.
Ulster have lost just one of their last five contests with Dragons: 22-26 at Rodney Parade in March 2015 whilst the Welshmen have not been victorious at Kingspan Stadium since a 16-14 win in September 2008.
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Stuart Olding, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Brett Herron, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Clive Ross, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pete Browne, 3 Ross Kane, 2 Rob Herring (captain), 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Andy Warwick, 19 Alan O'Connor, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Sam Windsor, 23 Robert Lyttle.
Newport Gwent Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Adam Warren, 13 Sam Beard, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Pat Howard, 10 Nick Macleod, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Ed Jackson, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Ollie Griffiths, 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Cory Hill, 3 Craig Mitchell, 2 Thomas Rhys Thomas (captain), 1 Sam Hobbs.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Buckley, 17 Tom Davies, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Nick Crosswell, 20 Lewis Evans, 21 Charlie Davies, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Tyler Morgan.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Matteo Liperini (Italy), Helen O'Reilly (Ireland)
TMO: Stefano Penne (Italy)
Saturday, September 3
SCARLETS v MUNSTER
(Parc y Scarlets - Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Scarlets' only defeat on the opening weekend in the last five years of Pro12 came when Leinster visited Parc y Scarlets in 2013.
Scarlets have lost their last two matches at the venue, to Cardiff Blues and Glasgow Warriors but have never lost three in a row at home in the Pro12 since moving to their new stadium in 2008.
Munster's only defeat in Round One since 2009 was by a single point to Edinburgh in Limerick in 2014.
The Munstermen concluded last season with the final seven rounds of Pro12 play all being won by the home side on the day.
Munster have not won in Wales since visiting Ospreys in Round Two last season.
Both matches between the two teams last season went the way of home field advantage whilst Scarlets have not lost to Munster at Parc y Scarlets in the Pro12 since April 2011.
Scarlets: 15 Liam Williams, 14 DTH van der Merwe, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Josh Macleod, 7 John Barclay, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Lewis Rawlins, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Dylan Evans.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 David Bulbring, 20 Tadhg Beirne, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Jonathan Davies.
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Dan Goggin, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Ronan O'Mahony, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Jack O'Donoghue, 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Dave O'Callaghan, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Dave Foley, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O'Byrne, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Brian Scott, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Donnacha Ryan, 21 Tomás O'Leary, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Cian Bohane.
Referee: Lloyd Linton (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White (Scotland), Wayne Davies (Wales)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
CONNACHT v GLASGOW WARRIORS
(Sportsground - Kick-off: 17.15; 16.15 GMT)
Reigning Pro12 Champions Connacht have begun their campaigns with an opening weekend victory in five of the past six seasons.
Connacht's solitary defeat in any competition at the Sportsground last season came at the hands of Ulster in the Pro12 on 26 December.
Glasgow Warriors concluded last season with a pair of defeats, both to Connacht in Galway, and have not lost three in a row in the Pro12 for four years.
The Warriors most recent victory in the Championship was a record one, beating Zebre 70-10 at Scotstoun in Round 21.
Connacht's victories over Glasgow Warriors in May in round 22 and the semifinal ended a run of eight successive Warriors victories against the Irishmen.
Connacht: 15 Cian Kelleher, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Nepia Fox-Matamua, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Danny Qualter, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 JP Cooney, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 James Connolly, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Shane O’Leary, 23 Peter Robb.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Peter Horne, 9 Henry Pyrgos (Co-captain), 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray (Co-captain), 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Pat MacArthur, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Tjiuee Uanivi, 20 Lewis Wynne, 21 Ali Price, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Sean Lamont.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant referees: Sean Brickell (Wales), Eddie Hagan-O'Connell (Ireland)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
CARDIFF BLUES v EDINBURGH
(Cardiff Arms Park - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Cardiff Blues have lost just once in Round One of the Pro12 in the past six seasons, visiting Glasgow in 2013.
The Blues only loss in their last six Pro12 encounters was 27-40 to Ospreys on ‘Judgement Day' at Principality Stadium at the end of April.
The Blues solitary defeat at Cardiff Arms Park since last November was by a single point to Leinster in Round 15.
Edinburgh are aiming for a third successive win on the opening weekend of the Pro12 having beaten Munster in 2014 and Leinster in 2015.
Edinburgh lost their final three matches of last season's Pro12 after beating Zebre 29-0 at Murrayfield on 1 April.
The Scotsmen were victorious on their most recent visit to Wales, winning 16-15 at Rodney Parade in Round 15.
The Blues only reversal to Edinburgh in their last seven fixtures was 13-28 at BT Murrayfield in November 2014, whilst Edinburgh's most recent win in Cardiff came in September 2012.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Rey LeeLo, 11 Tom James,10 Steve Shingler, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Ellis Jenkins (captain), 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Macauley Cook, 4 George Earle, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Kirby Myhill, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 James Down, 20 Cam Dolan, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Edinburgh: 15 Glenn Bryce, 14 Rory Scholes, 13 Sasa Tofilau, 12 Solomoni Rasolea, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Nathan Fowles, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Grant Gilchrist (captain), 4 Fraser McKenzie, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Jack Cosgrove, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Magnus Bradbury, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Blair Kinghorn, 23 Chris Dean.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Stuart Gaffikin (Ireland), Rhys Thomas (Wales)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)