Connacht and Glasgow both have a point to prove this season as they start their Guinness PRO14 campaigns on Saturday night at the Sportsground in Ireland.
New Warriors boss Dave Rennie will be hoping to reverse last season’s form that saw the Scottish club finish outside of the end-of-season play-offs in sixth position.
While last season’s champions, Connacht, will be looking to improve on their eighth-place finish last time out and demonstrate there is life after the departure of boss Pat Lam to Bristol in the summer.
What’s at stake: Glasgow boss Rennie has told his players a fast start to the new season is imperative and has called for more of the same that saw his men produce a solid 23-40 pre-season away win at the Dragons.
Glasgow have had some epic encounters with Connacht in recent seasons, especially two years ago, when the Irishmen won the league title after beating Glasgow in back-to-back games in Galway.
Team news (Connacht): Connacht have handed a competitive debut to new signing Jarrad Butler who starts at flanker, while Bundee Aki returns to the side in a midfield partnership with Eoin Griffin.
Scrum-half Kieran Marmion renews his half-back pairing with Jack Carty. The team is strengthened by the inclusion of four Irish internationals with Denis Buckley, Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane starting in the front five. John Muldoon captains the side at number eight in his 15th season with his native province.
Team news (Glasgow): Young second row Scott Cummings, who scored a try in Wales last week, starts in place of Jonny Gray, while there is also a debut for hooker George Turner.
There rare appearances at loosehead prop for Jamie Bhatti and openside for the promising Matt Smith. There is also a debut for former Chiefs wing Lelia Masaga, who impressed on his debut against the Dragons.
Talking points: It’s the battle of the new boys in Ireland on Saturday night, with Kieran Keane taking charge of his first game for Connacht in the Guinness PRO14, while Rennie is in the hotseat for Glasgow.
Both coaches will be desperate to get off to a fast start and prove they are the right men for the top job and deliver a much-coveted top-four finish this season.
Key battle: Centre Alex Dunbar makes his 100th Glasgow appearance against Connacht and his middle match up with Bundee Aki and Eoin Griffin will prove crucial to the outcome of the game.
With a whole host of Scotland internationalists such as Jonny Gray, Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Finn Russell, Fraser Brown, Rob Harley and Alex Allan still absent for Glasgow, Dunbar’s big-game experience will prove crucial in Ireland.
Key stat: Last time out in Scotland, Glasgow got the better of Connacht back in March and claimed maximum points as they won 35-24.
It wasn’t enough to catapult Glasgow towards a top-four spot at the end of the season but Rennie will know the significance of getting an early away-day win at the 2016 PRO12 champions.
Connacht: D Leader, C Kelleher, E Griffin, B Aki, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham, U Dillane, J Cannon, E Masterson, J Butler, J Muldoon.
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Sean O’Brien, Eoin McKeon, Conor McKeon, Craig Ronaldson, Tom Farrell.
Glasgow Warriors: R Jackson, L Masaga, A Dunbar, S Johnson, L Jones, P Horne, A Price; J Bhatti, G Turner, Z Fagerson, T Swinson, S Cummings, R Wilson (capt), M Smith, A Ashe.
Replacements: J Malcolm, O Kebble, A Nicol, G Peterson, M Fagerson, H Pyrgos, A Hastings, L Sarto.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (IRFU)
AR1: Dan Jones (WRU). AR2: Stuart Gaffikin (IRFU)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)
TV: Sky Sports Action: 5.15pm
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie
Dave Rennie got his reign as Glasgow Warriors boss off to an impressive start, with a hard-fought victory over 2016 title winners Connacht on the west coast of Ireland.
With both sides heading into the season curtain-raiser with new head coaches and overhauled playing squads the first half was a tense affair, with Ali Price’s penalty being bettered by three from Connacht’s Jack Carty.
The match exploded into life in the second half with a superb try from Price that tore the hosts’ determined defence apart.
The Irish province responded with another penalty from Carty before Price’s kick to the corner resulted in Warriors winger Lee Jones securing the victory.
With the players enduring the pre-season the pent-up aggression was on display just two minutes in, with a bout of fisticuffs resulting in a penalty to Connacht which Carty duly converted.
The Galway winds raked across the Sportsground and the effect was all to evident early on when Peter Horne’s penalty was forced back from the posts by a strong gust – the wind seemingly Connacht’s 16th man.
Glasgow were hampered further when they lost Sam Johnson to injury early on, with Adam Hastings, a summer signing from Bath, on at fly-half to replace him with Horne moving to centre.
With the wind and rain pounding down both sides looked to keep things tight with the forwards enjoying conditions perfect for a physical game of rugby.
The home side were awarded another penalty 20 minutes in, with Carty again adding the three points before both scrum’s exchanged penalties in the arm-wrestle.
Warriors prop Oli Kebble, signed from the Stormers, came on for his debut but his first action was to give away a penalty – and with the last action of the half Carty sent over his third kick to leave the score 9-3 at the break.
The Scotstoun side have lost just once on the opening day since 2012 and came out for the second half with renewed energy, buoyed by the gales now blowing in their direction.
Kieran Keane’s side defended resolutely though and were able to withstand a try but not a penalty, as Price kicked a three-pointer after a sustained period of pressure.
The 2015 title-winners weren’t done there though and scored a brilliant opening try from a scrum, with Horne running a scything line off Hastings and putting Price in under the posts.
In the 58th minute Dave Rennie’s side were dealt a double blow as they conceded a penalty resulting from a thumping tackle from substitute Thomas Farrell, and new recruit Hastings being stretchered off injured.
Carty edged the scores closer at 12-13 but in the 71st minute Price prodded a deft kick into the corner which was collected by substitute Leonardo Sarto who offloaded to Jones to touch-down in the corner.