Munster are set to return to terrestrial airwaves for the first time in 12 years after their Heineken Champions Cup round two clash with Gloucester was chosen for free-to-air broadcast.
The announcement of fixtures sees reigning champions Leinster kick off the 24th season of European competition with a Pool 1 game against Wasps at the RDS Arena on Friday, October 12, while Munster get their campaign up and running in south-west England the following day with a visit to Pool 2 rivals Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park.
While BT Sport will televise all European games this season, one game per round of the pool stages is being televised free-to-air for the first time since 2006, with Channel 4 and Ireland’s TV3, soon to be re-named Virgin Media One, the broadcasters.
Bath v Toulouse, in Leinster’s pool, is the choice for round one on Saturday, October 13 with the terrestrial channels opting to visit Thomond Park the following weekend when Gloucester return to Limerick to face Munster on October 20. With the earliest kick-off of the day at 1pm, Munster may have a harder sell than usual on their hands given the option to stay at home and watch for free. Yet there is no denying the province will reach a larger audience that weekend after more than a decade of European coverage behind paywalls on Sky Sports or BT Sport. Leinster will be in a similar situation in round five when they host Toulouse at the RDS at 1pm on January 12 as that weekend’s game on TV3.
The traditional home and away rounds in December remain with Munster playing Castres twice in six days, at home on Sunday, December 9, another 1pm kick-off albeit on BT Sport, followed by the return fixture in France on Saturday, December 15, while Leinster go to Bath in round three on December 8 before heading back to the Aviva Stadium for a 5:30pm kick-off on the 15th.
Ulster kick off their Pool 4 campaign in Belfast on October 13 against Leicester Tigers before visiting Paris and Racing 92 seven days later with Scarlets their back-to-back opponents away on Friday, December 7 and home on the 14th.
Former Munster star Simon Zebo’s European debut for new club Racing alongside Donnacha Ryan could come at Scarlets on October 13 while last year’s runners-up visit Belfast in round five on January 12.
Connacht’s first Challenge Cup under new head coach Andy Friend kicks off in Galway against Bordeaux-Bègles on October 13, followed by a trip to Sale Sharks a week later and back to back games with Paddy Jackson’s new club Perpignan, at home on December 8 and away on December 14.
Meanwhile, blue cards to signal a permanent replacement for any player with concussion are to be trialled in the top two divisions of French club rugby this season. World Rugby has approved a request by the French Rugby Federation to operate the system in the Top 14 and Pro D2 competitions with a view to improving player welfare.
An added amendment to existing rules will allow up to four additional replacements from the eight named on the bench where tactically-replaced players may take over from any injured player.
World Rugby said: “There will be a detailed study to analyse the impact of the closed trials, sharing all data with World Rugby for evaluation and to determine whether there are player welfare grounds for further evaluation and trial.”s