The opening four rounds of Heineken Cup fixtures have been confirmed in Dublin for European rugby’s premier club competition.
The tournament, now in its 18th year, has grown into something of a monster in terms of revenue and attendances. May’s Twickenham final was witnessed by a record-breaking crowd of 81,774, as Leinster overcame their compatriots Ulster in a comprehensive 42-14 victory to earn their third Heineken Cup in as many years.
Glasgow Warriors will begin their campaign away to coach Gregor Townsend’s former club Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens, in a game which will be televised live on Sky Sports.
The Warriors will then have a short five day turnaround before welcoming last season’s finalists Ulster to Scotstoun on Friday, October 19.
Edinburgh will begin their Pool One fixtures with a home game against English side Saracens at Murrayfield on Saturday, October 13. The capital side will hope to get off to the same start as last year with back-to-back wins, but face the daunting prospect of a trip to Thomond Park to face Munster in round two on Sunday, October 21.
Elsewhere in the opening rounds, reigning champions Leinster open their defence of the trophy with a home match against newcomers Exeter Chiefs at the RDS Arena. Italian side Zebre play their first every European match against Connacht on Saturday, October 13.
Richie Gray’s new club Sale Sharks make a welcome return to the competition with a home match against Cardiff Blues at Salford City stadium 24 hours later, whilst the pick of the first round ties will see former champions Toulouse and Leicester Tigers meet at the Le stadium later the same day.
Rounds three and four traditionally feature the unique back-to-back format where teams face each other twice in the space of ten days.
Glasgow will welcome Castres Olympique, featuring former Warrior Max Evans, to Scotstoun on Friday, December 7 before making the return trip across the channel for the fourth round on Sunday, December 16.
Edinburgh will face familiar opponents in December in the form of Racing Metro 92. The two sides produced a couple of enthralling games in last season’s group stage and supporters will relish the prospect of two more contests between the sides. The first takes place in Paris on Saturday, December 8 and the following Friday at Murrayfield.
Elsewhere in Edinburgh’s group, the nomadic Saracens will go on a European road trip as they wait for the completion of their new home in Barnet. After their Murrayfield visit they will then play a “home” match against Racing Metro at King Baudouin Stadium in Belgium, on Saturday, October 20, before welcoming Munster to either Twickenham or Wembley on Sunday, December 16.
After Edinburgh’s unexpected success last season, many sides will be wary of the two Scottish sides in Europe this season.
Speaking earlier on the Glasgow Warriors website, head coach Townsend commented: "We’re facing finalists from the last two Heineken Cup finals, as well as one of the top teams in France, so we know the quality we’ll be up against."
Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley, who last month added former Heineken Cup winner Neil Back to his staff, will be pleased to begin the tournament with a home match against Saracens after beginning the last two campaigns away.
The trip to Munster, however, will be Edinburgh’s acid test as to how much they have learned from last season’s endeavours, as the Irish province have a formidable home record in Europe.
Rounds five and six will be held in the second and third week in January when Glasgow will visit Ulster and welcome Northampton Saints, and Edinburgh will host Munster, before travelling to an as-of-yet unknown venue to face Saracens.
As was the case last year, it is essential that both sides are still in the mix after Christmas to have any chance of progressing further in either the Heineken Cup or the second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup as a best runner-up.
This season’s final is scheduled to take place at the 51,600 capacity Aviva Stadium on May 18, 2013.
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Saturday, October 13: Edinburgh v Saracens, Murrayfield, 1:35pm Sunday, October 14: Northampton Saints v Glasgow Warriors, Franklin’s Gardens, 12:45pm
Friday, October 19: Glasgow Warriors v Ulster, Scotstoun, 8pm Sunday, October 21: Munster v Edinburgh, Thomond Park, 12:45pm
Friday, December 7: Glasgow Warriors v Castres Olympique, Scotstoun, 7:35pm Saturday, December 8: Racing Metro 92 v Edinburgh, Stade Yves du Manoir, 7pm
Friday, December 14: Edinburgh v Racing Metro 92, Murrayfield 8pm Sunday, December 16: Castres Olympique v Glasgow Warriors, Stade Pierre Antoine, 1:45pm
Rounds Five and Six
To be confirmed