With the addition of the Southern Kings and the Toyota Cheetahs, 12 became 14 and the new-look Guinness PRO14 took shape. Fans from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy and South Africa now have new and exciting opportunities to watch rugby like never before.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of making a trip to Dublin, capital of the Republic of Ireland.
Dublin offers a brilliant experience for fans and three rugby stadiums call the city home.
Most Guinness PRO14 supporters will visit Leinster’s home ground, the RDS Arena, but the Leinstermen also play at 51,700 capacity Aviva Stadium when a larger crowd is expected.
Leinster’s old home was Donnybrook Stadium and Lansdowne Road was formerly the spiritual home of rugby in Ireland before it was demolished in 2007 to make way for the construction of Aviva Stadium.
Lansdowne Road was constructed in 1872 and rugby union was played there for the next 135 years, with the stadium being owned by the IRFU.
Dublin is an easy city to access by land, sea or air.
By sea, Dublin Port is centrally located and Dunlaoghaire Port is situated to the south of the city – both have excellent ferry connections to the UK and Europe.
Dublin Airport is located 10km to the north of the city and is one of the busiest in Europe – while there are two main railway stations that are serviced by the Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART) system.
Five things to see and do
Many people’s first requirement when arriving is a cold pint and there’s no better place to go than The Bridge 1859 in Ballsbridge – the pub is close to the Aviva and the RDS and is owned by Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip and the Kearney brothers.
For something a bit more adventurous visitors can kayak down the Liffey River which runs through the middle of the city, there’s also wakeboarding at Grand Canal Dock if you really want to get the blood pumping.
Tours are available at Aviva Stadium, the home of the Irish rugby team, and sports fans may also want to visit the 82,300 seat Croke Park stadium – the home of the Gaelic Athletic association which has a fascinating story to tell.
You can’t beat a perfectly poured pint of the black stuff and so a trip to the Guinness Storehouse on St James’s Gate is always a good idea.
The museum will tell you all you need to know and there’s also a rooftop bar with impressive views over the city.
For those looking to soak up some culture, Dublin has a rich literary history which is documented at the Dublin Writers Museum situated in a mansion to the north of the city centre.
A man who needs no introduction is Brian Gerard O’Driscoll, born in Dublin in 1979. The waltzing centre played Gaelic football in the city before moving to rugby, and attended Blackrock College where he played on the Senior Cup team in 1996 and 1997.
Mixed martial arts fighter Conor McGregor hails from the Republic of Ireland capital – he made his professional debut in 2008 and is now one of the most famous sportsmen on earth.
All-conquering band U2 are another globally famous act and have been making music since they formed in Dublin in 1976.
Two-time British & Irish Lions star Johnny Sexton calls Dublin home – his performances at Dublin’s St Mary’s College led to his Leinster selection, making his debut in 2006.
One of Leinster’s most important signings this summer, Australian back-rower Scott Fardy arrived from Super Rugby team the Brumbies this week.
The 33-year-old Wallaby international will bring southern hemisphere cunning combined with immense power that makes him one of the best blindsides in world rugby.
At the other end of his career is another player destined for greatness – Joey Carbery signed his first professional contract for Leinster in February and dazzled the crowds with his footwork last season.
New Zealand-born Carbery, 21, only made his debut for Leinster in September 2016 but has already won four caps for Ireland including a debut in the historic 40-29 victory over New Zealand in Chicago.
The RDS Arena will host most of Leinster’s Guinness PRO14 fixtures and has a capacity of 18,500.
The stadium is located in the suburb of Ballsbridge, a couple of miles south of the city centre, and has two main covered stands running along the touchlines.
The closest train station is Sandymount, on the DART light-rail line, which is a 10 minute journey to one of Dublin’s main hubs – Connolly Station.
There are a number of bars and foot outlets inside the ground and as ever with Dublin, plenty of spots nearby where you can hear traditional Irish music until the small hours.