The Guinness PRO12 kicks off on Sky Sports on September 6, where we will be featuring three of last season’s four semi-finalists on the opening weekend of fixtures.
Welsh side Scarlets play host to Ulster at Parc y Scarlets in the first of our matches. Ulster lost to Leinster in the semi-final of last season’s competition and will be looking to improve on that showing this time round, but they will have to do it without their long-standing captain, Johann Muller, who has now retired from all forms of rugby.
The South African captained the team from the beginning of the 2011-12 season up until May before handing the captaincy to Ireland hooker Rory Best, who has made 152 appearances for the province. Muller leaves behind a team of immense talent, a team that has made big strides in recent seasons towards obtaining the silverware that their squad and growing confidence has previously promised.
Scarlets started their preseason with a 26-26 draw against Bath at the Recreation ground on August 16, a result that had new coach Wayne Pivac asking for more. The New Zealander took over the team when Simon Easterby accepted the job of forwards coach of Ireland, and is optimistic that his new side will show the improvements necessary to better their position of 6th place from last season.
Both teams have key players for the future of their respective nations. In Jake Ball the Scarlets have a young lock who has made a big impact in his short time with Wales, and Ulster possess one of the most exciting young fly-halves in Europe in the form of Paddy Jackson. Both players will want to get their campaigns off to a win to show the coaches they have the mental maturaity to influence big games in these major tournaments.
Scarlets v Ulster, live on Sky Sports 1 HD on Saturday September 6 from 2.30pm
The second game from the opening weekend is a replay of last season’s final. In May a determined Glasgow side made the trip to the RDS Arena to face a Leinster team brimming with international stars. Though Glasgow remained within two points of the Irishmen with just 20 minutes remaining in the game, the occasion proved too much for the ambitious Scottish side who ended up on the wrong side of a convincing 34-12 defeat.
This season they have an immediate opportunity to exact revenge on the defending champions when they host them at Scotstoun Stadium. Leinster will want to ensure that their form from last season is carried into the opening exchanges of the 2013-14 tournament. This is their first season without Brian O’Driscoll but the squad still boasts the likes of Rob Kearney, Jamie Heaslip, and Cian Healy - all of whom will be eager to prove that they are more than just a one-man club.
Aside from final, the spoils were shared by these two teams in the last PRO12 competition, and both games went right down to the wire. Glasgow took the initial advantage with a 12-6 home victory before Leinster stole the away match 28-25 in a six-try thriller. All things considered this is fast becoming a keenly contested matchup in the PRO12, and both teams will be relishing the chance to make an early statement in this year’s tournament.
Glasgow Warriors v Leinster, live on Sky Sports 1 HD on Saturday September 6 from 5pm
Also in September we bring you Leinster against Scarlets, and Glasgow travel to Newport to take on the Dragons. Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones will then lead his Ospreys team to Thomond Park to take on the might of Munster. Ospreys currently hold the joint most titles overall in this competition alongside Leinster – can either team take it one further this season?
October sees old foes and local rivals Leinster and Munster go head to head at the RDS arena. This match-up has produced some of the best matches in Europe over the course of history and this year stands to be no different. Edinburgh also take on the Dragons at Murrayfield before Ulster wrap up our October coverage with a highly anticipated showdown with Glasgow Warriors.
Watch all these Guinness PRO12 matches and more live on Sky Sports