There are few better places to kick off a brand-new Guinness PRO14 season than BT Murrayfield, and Edinburgh Rugby will once again do just that when they welcome Zebre to the stadium on Saturday evening.
Bookending the weekend’s fixtures, both sides will be desperate to start things off on the right foot as they target improvements on last season; Edinburgh narrowly missing out on a play-off berth in Conference B; Zebre finishing seventh in Conference A.
And the hosts have made an early statement of intent in naming their starting XV: summer signing Nic Groom not only starts but takes up the captain’s armband at scrum-half, while Nick Haining gets the nod at No.8 and Murray Douglas returns to the Edinburgh ranks for the first time in seven years after re-joining this summer.
For the visitors, it is a similar story, with no less than eight exciting signings set to make their competitive debuts, among them Ian Nagle – who will skipper the side.
Kick-off: Murrayfield, Edinburgh | 19:35 (UK) 20:35 (ITA), Saturday 28 September
How to watch: Live on Premier Sports & DAZN
Players to watch out for: Nic Groom and Ian Nagle
All eyes will be on the armband on Saturday evening in the Scottish capital.
Two debutants with exceptional pedigree looking to lead from the front and immediately make their presence felt; Groom and Nagle may not have much in common with regards to their positions, but in terms of their experience, they are of similar stock.
A former Barbarian, South African Groom is set for his Guinness PRO14 bow, slotting in for Henry Pyrgos as another canny operator at No.9.
Towering lock Nagle, on the other hand, is a veteran of the competition, with stints at Munster, Leinster and Ulster all under his belt, but Saturday’s run-out will herald the start of a new challenge.
Key stat: The Scotsmen have lost their last two matches against Italian opponents, but both were on visits to Italy. They have not been defeated by an Italian side at BT Murrayfield since Zebre visited in October 2016.
Edinburgh Rugby: Damien Hoyland, Jamie Farndale, Mark Bennett, Matt Scott, Duhan van der Merwe, Jaco van der Walt, Nic Groom (c); Pierre Schoeman, Dave Cherry, Pietro Ceccarelli, Fraser McKenzie, Murray Douglas, Lewis Carmichael, Luke Crosbie, Nick Haining
Replacements: Mike Willemse, Jamie Bhatti, Murray McCallum, Mesu Kunavula, Ally Miller, Charlie Shiel, Simon Hickey, George Taylor
Zebre: Charlie Walker, James Elliott, Ludovico Vaccari, Enrico Lucchin, Paula Balekana, Francois Brummer, Joshua Renton; Giovanni Licata, Johan Meyer, Iacopo Bianchi, Ian Nagle (c), Mick Kearney, Alexandru Tarus, Marco Manfredi, Danilo Fischetti
Replacements: Massimo Ceciliani, Daniele Rimpelli, Giosue Zilocchi, George Biagi, Apisai Tauyavuca, Nicolo Casilio, Pierre Bruno, Federico Mori
Edinburgh Rugby rounded off the opening weekend of the Guinness PRO14 season in style as they toppled Zebre 50-15 at BT Murrayfield.
Four first-half tries sealed the bonus point before the break and put the hosts firmly in control, Mark Bennett finishing with a hat-trick in a standout display.
And with head coach Richard Cockerill challenging his charges to reach the play-offs at a minimum this season, they started as they mean to go on.
The hosts powered into an early lead five minutes into the fray, Fraser McKenzie bulldozing over from short range.
Francois Brummer slotted a penalty but after a quarter of an hour Edinburgh grabbed their second, Nic Groom’s deflected grubber finding Bennett over the paint.
Zebre got themselves back into the game in opportunistic style, Giovanni Licata charging down Groom’s kick before unleashing an emphatic dive to slam the ball down inches before it bounced dead.
All-action Groom was next to cross, fed by Duhan van der Merwe after the winger slipped round the outside, before the hosts wrapped up a bonus point before half time through Scott’s score.
Bennett got the ball rolling in the second 40 as he grabbed his second on a perfect angle, before 18-year-old Federico Mori grabbed a try on debut in response for Zebre.
Bennett grabbed his third to crown a fabulous display, before Jamie Farndale finished things off with one final score.
What a triumphant return it was for Mark Bennett.
Three tries highlighted his sevens pedigree, and he posed a clinical threat to Zebre throughout; Richard Cockerill will be delighted to see his man fit and firing after his injury nightmare.
They may have left BT Murrayfield defeated, but a moment of first-half magic will have had fans of Zebre purring.
Licata showed outstanding athleticism to chase down Groom’s box kick, steady himself and swan-dive to touch down in the nick of time.
Cardiff City Stadium will play host to the 2020 Guinness PRO14 Final on June 20 as one of the most exciting days in the club rugby calendar comes to Wales!
General sale tickets are available from http://bit.ly/PRO14Cardiff2020 and prices start at just £13 for concessions and £26 for adults (subject to booking fees), that’s a 15% early bird discount. Family ticket (2 adults / 2 children) prices begin at £64 and fans are encouraged to buy early to get the best value tickets.