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It’s a new chapter in rugby history this weekend when the first-ever Guinness PRO14 season kicks off after the addition of the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings from South Africa.

As this world class Championship continues to raise the bar, the introduction of the Cheetahs and the Kings makes the Guinness PRO14 a global tournament. Round 1 also marks the first games played under the new Conference format which sees each team play home and away against clubs in their own Conference and then home OR away against the other Conference before two more rounds that ensure all derby games are played.

The Kings face a daunting trip to Parc Y Scarlets where the men from Llanelli will play their first Championship game since winning the title at Aviva Stadium last May.

It promises to be a sensational season with 21 regular rounds to decide who will reach the newly expanded Guinness PRO14 Final Series with six clubs qualifying.

CARDIFF BLUES

There’s plenty of intrigue surrounding the first fixtures of the season with Cardiff Blues and Edinburgh meeting at the Cardiff Arms Park. It will mark the PRO14 debut of Richard Cockerill as Edinburgh coach, but each team will believe that they have ground to make up for and make a challenge to finish in the Top 3 of their respective Conferences.

The Cardiff Blues got off to a strong start last season and Danny Wilson will be showing his ambition for the team at home – while former Leicester boss Cockerill will have high hopes for the Scots.

The Cardiff Blues have won their last five fixtures against Edinburgh whilst their only reversal in their last nine encounters came at BT Murrayfield in November 2014.

Rey Lee-Lo returns to action as Cardiff Blues kick-off their new Guinness PRO14 season with a home clash against Edinburgh on Friday night (7.35pm). The 2016-17 Peter Thomas Player of the Year did not feature during the pre-season victories over London Scottish and Exeter Chiefs after he was given an extended break following his summer exploits with Samoa.

But he has been training with the squad and goes straight into a starting xv, which includes 10 internationals and Nick Williams, who also returns.

Cardiff Blues head coach Danny Wilson said: “Rey was our player of the year last season and will be an important player for us again.

“It’s hard to keep him out of my office because he wants to play every week and is desperate to play. Trying to hold him off this long has been a challenge but it’s great to have him back.

“He has been training the last couple of weeks and we’ll manage him over the first month because he had a huge summer of rugby.”

Cardiff Blues claimed a double over Edinburgh last season and Wilson expects a stern challenge from the Scots, who will undoubtedly have been boosted by the arrival of Richard Cockerill as director of rugby.

But he believes the Blues can take plenty of confidence into the Cardiff Arms Park encounter following an impressive victory over English champions Exeter Chiefs in their final friendly.

He added: “It was a confidence boost, a good shot of confidence to the arm to have a side like that, with all the success they’ve had and coming with as strong a team as they had available to them and to claim a good win with a lot of youngsters on the field.

“Ultimately it means nothing – league points start on Friday. But it was a pleasing night and hopefully a confidence boost going into Friday.

“Edinburgh have always had a big pack of forwards who set-piece well, a good defence and I don’t see that changing from Richard Cockerill taking over.

“Now is their first chance under their new coach to make a mark, and I’m sure they’ll be coming over extremely motivated on Friday night.”

Cardiff Blues team to face Edinburgh on Friday, September 1 (7.35pm) at Cardiff Arms Park: Matthew Morgan; Alex Cuthbert, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Aled Summerhill; Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Gill, Matthew Rees (capt), Taufa’ao Filise, Seb Davies, Damian Welch, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi, Nick Williams.

Replacements: Kirby Myhil, Corey Domachowski, Keiron Assiratti, Macauley Cook, Sion Bennett, Tomos Williams, Steve Shingler, Tom James.

OSPREYS

The Ospreys, who reached the semi-finals of the Championship last season open their campaign at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday afternoon, with Head Coach Steve Tandy looking for a season that retains consistency throughout and gets his side into the knock-out stages once again.

Ospreys Head Coach, Steve Tandy, said: “It’s great to be back into Guinness PRO14 action again, there’s definitely a buzz around the environment and everyone is excited about the weekend. Kicking off at the Liberty on a Saturday afternoon is great for us. When you look at what is a pretty testing schedule in the first six rounds, it’s crucial we get off to a positive start and being at home with our supporters behind us is important.

“The new conference system with the introduction of the South African teams has certainly created interest and given the championship a sense of freshness. It’s a competition which grows in stature year on year and I think that’ll be the case this year. We achieved a play-off spot last season off the back of an excellent first two-thirds of the year. The challenge now has to be to build on that, make sure we carry form throughout the season and look for continued improvement and growth, ensuring we are where want to be at the tail end, involved in big play-off fixtures.”

Paul James makes his 223rd Ospreys appearance, equaling Duncan Jones at the top of the appearance list for the region. Cory Allen makes his competitive Ospreys debut. Reuben Morgan-Williams will make his senior Ospreys debut if he comes off the bench.

Ospreys team to play Zebre at Liberty Stadium on Saturday 2nd September 2017, KO 2.30pm, is as follows: 15 Dan Evans; 14 Keelan Giles; 13 Ben John; 12 Cory Allen; 11 Jeff Hassler; 10 James Hook; 9 Tom Habberfield (Capt); 1 Paul James; 2 Sam Parry; 3 Ma’afu Fia; 4 Bradley Davies; 5 Rory Thornton; 6 Olly Cracknell; 7 Justin Tipuric; 8 Dan Baker

Replacements: 16 Scott Otten; 17 Nicky Smith; 18 Rhodri Jones; 19 Lloyd Ashley; 20 James King; 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams; 22 Sam Davies; 23 Kieron Fonotia

SCARLETS

 Reigning Guinness PRO12 Champions concluded last season with seven straight victories including the final against Munster at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin and the West Wales side have not lost at Parc y Scarlets since the opening round last season when Munster were the visitors.

This weekend they open their campaign against South African new-comers, Southern Kings on Saturday with Scottish international John Barclay picks up the captain’s armband. Barclay’s last outing as the side’s captain saw him lift the Guinness PRO12 trophy in Dublin back in May and he will be keen to get the new season off to a positive start against the South African newcomers.

Scarlets and Welsh rugby supporters alike will be excited by the prospect of seeing Leigh Halfpenny make his debut at Parc y Scarlets and playing his rugby back in Wales. He’s joined in the back three by Johnny Mcnicholl and last season’s Guinness PRO12 top try scorer Steff Evans.

The pack is led by an all-international front row in Rob Evans, Ryan Elias and Samson Lee. International lock Jake Ball is joined in the second row by Tadhg Beirne whilst Aaron Shingler and James Davies join Barclay in the back row.

Looking ahead to the opening round of the exciting new-look championship Pivac said; “It’s an exciting time. A new team and a new culture coming into our back yard is very exciting for everyone.

“We don’t know a lot about them but it just means we focus on our performance and I think at this time of the year most teams are doing that anyway. There have been quite a few changes from the side that played in Super Rugby but we’ve watched some of their matches and we’ve been quite impressed with how they play, they play an attractive style of rugby that will suit this competition.”

Scarlets side to take on Southern Kings at Parc y Scarlets, Saturday 2nd September, kick-off 5.30pm; 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Johnny Mcnicholl, 13 Hadleigh Parkes, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 1 Rob Evans, 2 Ryan Elias, 3 Samson Lee, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Tadhg Beirne, 6 Aaron Shingler, 7 James Davies, 8 John Barclay ©

Replacements; Emyr Phillips, Dylan Evans, Werner Kruger, David Bulbring, Will Boyde, Jonathan Evans, Rhys Jones, Paul Asquith.

DRAGONS

Bernard Jackman’s era begins at Dragons where they will welcome their new head coach’s old team Leinster for their opening game of the season at a new-look Rodney Parade.

Wales International Gavin Henson will make his first Dragons appearance in the Welsh Regions Guinness PRO14 opener against Leinster Rugby on Saturday afternoon, at Rodney Parade (KO 15:15).

Fellow Summer signing Zane Kirchner will also make his competitive debut for the Dragons having played in the pre-season friendlies.

Saturday’s match will mark the beginning of a new era for the Dragons as they make their mark at Rodney Parade on a new pitch, underneath a new head coach.

Former Leinster player Zane Kirchner will start at fullback and is joined in the back three by the talented Ashton Hewitt and Welsh International Hallam Amos. The centre partnership sees youngsters Tyler Morgan and Jack Dixon given the nod whilst experienced fly-half Gavin Henson makes his first appearance in front of a home crowd; he is joined in the half-backs by Charlie Davies.

The front row sees Brok Harris and Leon Brown pack down next to Elliot Dee, whilst the second row sees the newly named Captain Cory Hill return alongside fellow lock Matthew Screech. Flankers James Thomas and Wales 7s star James Benjamin are named in the back row alongside number 8 Harrison Keddie.

Debutants Max Williams and Jared Rosser are named on bench alongside Rhys Buckley, Luke Garrett, Lloyd Fairbrother,  Rynard Landman, Tavis Knoyle and Angus O’Brien.

Dragons team to face Leinster; 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Ashton Hewitt, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Gavin Henson, 9 Charlie Davies; 1 Brok Harris, 2 Elliot Dee, 3 Leon Brown, 4 Matthew Screech, 5 Cory Hill ©, 6 James Thomas, 7 James Benjamin, 8 Harri Keddie.

Replacements; Rhys Buckley, Luke Garrett, Lloyd Fairbrother, Rynard Landman, Max Williams, Tavis Knoyle, Angus O’Brien, Jared Rosser.