The eagerly-awaited 2012-13 RaboDirect Pro 12 fixtures have been released, to the excitement of rugby fans across Europe.
The unveiling of the forthcoming season’s schedule will be greeted with particular interest in Parma, where newcomers Zebre will be based, playing their home matches at the 3,000-capacity Stadio XXV Aprile.
Closer to home, Glasgow Warriors will have to wait until the second weekend of the new season to unveil their new Scotstoun Stadium to the rugby public. They will travel to Ravenhill on the opening weekend of August 31 to face Heineken cup finalists Ulster, before welcoming Welsh outfit the Scarlets to the west end the following weekend.
Ulster will become familiar opponents for the Warriors this term as the two sides have also been drawn together in the Heineken Cup which commences in October.
Clashes between the two sides are often close and this season’s four matches promise to be no different. Each side have as good an away record as the other, although Glasgow have previously defeated Ulster at Scotstoun way back in 1997 in the early days of professional competition.
Welsh region the Scarlets, who had a disappointing season by their standards, will be the first side to visit the new-look Scotstoun on the weekend of September 7. New recruit, Sean Lamont, will be called upon to give inside knowledge about the attacking outfit from Llanelli, having played there for three years.
As well as Lamont, the Scarlets have also lost the influential Stephen Jones, who has joined London Wasps, but can still boast one of the most dangerous backlines in the Pro 12 featuring George North, John Davies and Rhys Priestland.
Edinburgh Rugby face the daunting challenge of welcoming European heavyweights Munster to Murayfield on opening day, before travelling to the newly re-opened Cardiff Arms Park to face the Blues on September 7.
The capital side announced the appointment of 2003 World Cup winner Neil Back as their forwards coach last week. The former Leicester man will demand more aggression from an Edinburgh pack that were all too often bullied last season especially in the Pro 12.
The addition of South African duo Izak van der Westhuizen and WP Nel, along with former All Black Ben Antiga, should help toughen up a squad which will be expected to challenge for a play-off spot this season given their impressive Heineken cup campaign last term.
SRU Chief Mark Dodson last week launched an ambitious target for the national side to win at least one Six Nations championship by 2015, and also challenge to win the World Cup that same year. Many fans will see as slightly opportunist but Dodson is right to set the bar high given what both Glasgow and Edinburgh achieved last season.
Both Pro sides will be expected to reach the Heineken Cup quarter finals at least, in addition to a top four finish in the Pro 12, which really should be the minimum target given the level of backing both sides now receive from the Union.
Edinburgh in particular have made a number of key signings as well as retaining the likes of Tim Visser, Dave Denton and Nick De Luca. Glasgow have mainly added to the pack, with the likes of former All Black Angus Macdonald and Tim Swinson from Newcastle Falcons alongside Tongan number eight Viliami Ma’afu.
Season tickets have also been selling well, particularly in the West where over 1,300 memberships for Scotstoun Stadium have now been sold. That was the average home gate not so long ago, proving that the appetite for professional rugby in Glasgow is growing.
The Warriors may also benefit from the turmoil across the city at Ibrox whereby young families may be looking elsewhere for their sporting fix, and the set up at Scotstoun is firmly geared towards a fun environment for all ages. Additional temporary seating has been green-lit for the winter months, when Glasgow will welcome Castres Olympique and Edinburgh among others, allowing a record capacity of over 15,000 being possible.
The action gets underway in earnest on Friday, August 31 when Edinburgh welcome Munster and Glasgow head to Belfast to take on Ulster.
Opening RaboDirect Pro12 fixtures:
Weekend of Aug 31:
Treviso v Ospreys Connacht v Blues Edinburgh v Munster Dragons v Zebre Scarlets v Leinster Ulster v Warriors
Weekend of Sep 7:
Blues v Edinburgh Warriors v Scarlets Leinster v Dragons Munster v Treviso Ospreys v Ulster Zebre v Connacht
1872 derby (2 legs)
Weekend of Dec 21
Glasgow v Edinburgh at Scotstoun
Weekend of Dec 28
Edinburgh v Glasgow at Murrayfield
You can follow Finlay Morrison on Twitter @FinMorrison