Celtic sides embark on new campaign
September 3, 2009
Mike Phillips returns to domestic action with the Ospreys this weekend © Getty Images
The new Magners League season kicks off on Friday night with one of the highlights being Cardiff Blues' first competitive fixture at their new stadium. Dai Young's men take on Edinburgh in our Game of the Week.
Elsewhere on Friday, Ospreys travel to the Sportsground in Galway to face Connacht looking for a repeat of the victory they claimed in the same fixture last season. The Irish province lost their last four Magners League matches last season and gained just one victory over a Welsh region during the entire campaign. They have won just one their last five meetings with their Welsh rivals.
The Ospreys have thrust Mike Phillips straight back in to action after his summer exertions in Lions' colours, the scrum-half partnering Dan Biggar at halfback. James Hook makes do with a place on the bench and new signing Barry Davies claims the fullback jersey for the season opener.
Ryan Jones captains the side and wears No.8 alongside another new face in former All Black powerhouse Jerry Collins and reliable openside Marty Holah. Scotland wing Nikki Walker starts and will want to put an injury-ravaged season behind him.
Connacht have named three debutants for the game, with winger Brian Tuohy, lock Bernie Upton and No.8 Mike McComish all getting starts. Flanker John Muldoon skippers the side after representing Ireland during the summer and prop Jamie Hagan and fly-half Miah Nikora also set for debuts off the bench. [Teams]
Munster are also in action on Friday night and will head north to begin the defence of their title against Glasgow Warriors at Firhill Arena. Munster will be hoping it will be third time lucky as the reigning champions have lost their opening game in the last two seasons.
Munster have named a young and exciting squad for the game, with Felix Jones and Tom Gleeson out to impress at fullback and centre. Doug Howlett starts on the wing after missing the final warm-up against Leicester, with his fellow Kiwis Lifiemi Mafi and Jeremy Manning also starting among the backs.
Veteran lock Mick O'Driscoll wears the captain's armband in place of Lions skipper Paul O'Connell, who joins his fellow tourists in receiving a night off.
Glasgow boss Sean Lineen has thrown his new recruits straight in to action. Scrum-half Chris Cusiter, signed from French champions Perpignan, starts alongside Dan Parks at halfback while Peter Murchie and Rob Dewey are handed opportunities at centre and wing respectively.
Johnnie Beattie returns at No.8 in a strong back-row, alongside John Barclay and Kelly Brown. [Teams]
On Saturday, Heineken Cup winners Leinster will take on the Scarlets hoping to improve a record that has seen them win just once in the opening round since 2003. But they will take heart from the fact that they only lost one of their eight encounters with the Welsh regions last season.
Shaun Berne will make his competitive debut for Leinster, with the former Bath ace having been paired with Fergus McFadden in midfield. The versatile Isa Nacewa has been deployed on the left wing, with Shane Horgan on the opposite flank and Girvan Dempsey at full-back. Jonathan Sexton partners Chris Keane in the halfbacks.
Up front, Leo Cullen will skipper the side from the second row, where he will be joined by fellow Leinster veteran Malcolm O'Kelly. Cian Healy, John Fogarty and Stan Wright form a formidable-looking front row, while Kevin McLaughlin has been handed a chance to impress at blindside flanker in a back row also containing Shane Jennings at Stephen Keogh.
The Scarlets, meanwhile, have included three of their summer arrivals in their starting line-up. Sean Lamont lines out on the right wing, Richie Pugh gets the nod at openside flanker, while Rhys Thomas starts at tight-head prop.
Rhys Priestland has been passed fit to start so he will wear No.10, with 19-year-old Dan Newton, who has impressed in pre-season, providing cover from the bench. Newly-appointed captain Mark Jones will lead the side from the left wing.
The first round draws to a close on Sunday with Dragons playing host to Ulster at Rodney Parade. The hosts have won their opening game in three of the last four years and three of their last four clashes in Newport.
Ulster have named Ian Humphreys and Isaac Boss at half-back, with Paddy Wallace being forced to settle for a place on the bench. Bryn Cunningham starts at fullback, with Scotland wing Simon Danielli out to continue last season's fine form alongside him.
With hooker and captain Rory Best out for the season with a neck injury, Andy Kyriacou steps in to the front-row alongside BJ Botha and Bryan Young.
The Dragons, meanwhile, will have to make do without the services of props Phil Price and Ben Castle, both of whom have been ruled out of the game through injury. As a result, there is room on the bench for both Gethin Robinson and Hugh Gustafson, with Ali McKenzie and Nigel Hall starting either side of Dragons captain Tom Willis in the front row.
As Ray McLoughlin prepares to celebrate his 75th birthday, Huw Richards pays tribute to the man and the selectors who had the wisdom to bring him into the Ireland fold
John Taylor argues the world's best XVs players must be given a chance to play in the Olympics to increase the appeal of the game
The All Blacks' form is not a peaking issue, but Hansen must threaten to wield his axe, to demand improvement, Craig Dowd writes
"It has been the World Cup that smashed down the gender barriers of the sport." Tom Hamilton looks back at a remarkable tournament