A spree of new signings are ready and waiting to make their bows as Ospreys prepare for a trip to Ulster, looking to upset a side with a proud home record.
The Irish province lost only once at the Kingspan Stadium last term, a second-place finish in Conference A their reward.
And Dan McFarland has handed debuts to a trio of summer acquisitions as they look to go one better this time around, with Jack McGrath, Sam Carter and Matt Faddes all in-line to start.
For Ospreys, Gareth Evans gets the nod in the back row after joining from Gloucester, while academy graduate Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler is named among the replacements.
Kick-off: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast | 19:35 (UK) Friday 27 September
How to watch: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast | Live on Premier Sports & DAZN – Broadcast partners
Players to watch out for: Jordi Murphy (Ulster) and Gareth Evans (Ospreys)
There is an interesting battle shaping up at the back of both packs, with new boy Evans thrown in at the deep end against a Murphy-marshalled Ulster trio.
The former Gloucester man is a ball-carrier by nature and will need to be at his bustling best if he is to outshine Ulster stalwart Murphy.
Key stat: Ulster have been defeated on the opening weekend just once since 2009, at Dragons in 2013.
Ulster: Matt Faddes, Craig Gilroy, Luke Marshall, James Hume, Rob Lyttle, Billy Burns, John Cooney; Jack McGrath, Rob Herring (C), Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Sam Carter, Matthew Rea, Jordi Murphy, Sean Reidy
Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Greg Jones, David Shanahan, Michael Lowry, Louis Ludik
Ospreys: Dan Evans, Luke Morgan, Cory Allen, Scott Williams, Keelan Giles, Luke Price, Matthew Aubrey; Rhodri Jones, Sam Parry, Tom Botha, Lloyd Ashley, James King, Dan Lydiate (C), Olly Cracknell, Gareth Evans
Replacements: Scott Otten, Gareth Thomas, Gheorghe Gajion, Sam Cross, Dan Baker, Reuben Morgan-Williams, Cai Evans, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler
Craig Gilroy made a triumphant return from long-term injury, inspiring Ulster to a bonus-point win over Ospreys in their Guinness PRO14 opener.
Gilroy, plagued by a back injury for the last 11 months, twice gathered Billy Burns cross-field kicks to dot down as his side opened with a convincing victory.
Ulster were beaten just once on home soil in the Guinness PRO14 last season and while a fast start fuelled optimism, Ospreys couldn’t build on Dan Evans’ early score.
Only Leinster and Munster conceded fewer Guinness PRO14 tries than these two sides last season, but it didn’t take long for Ospreys to make the breakthrough.
Price, increasingly instrumental in the absence of Gareth Anscombe and after the departure of Sam Davies, kicked an early penalty and then slipped Dan Evans in for the full-back to make it 8-0.
Ulster looked rattled and coughed up possession from a rolling maul but Burns took control, taking the ball off the top of a lineout and cross-kicking for Gilroy to run in unchallenged.
Morgan’s sin-binning for offside was the turning point and Ulster plundered two tries in the space of ten minutes, No.8 Greg Jones burrowing over before new signing Matt Faddes extended the lead out wide.
With Price withdrawn after a head injury and centre Cory Allen hobbling off, Ospreys toiled and Burns was at it again, chipping 40 metres across field for Gilroy to do the honours.
The scoreline was made more emphatic with Ulster awarded a penalty try after Morgan nudged a player chasing a grubber kick and was given a second yellow card.
New lock Sam Carter was mightily impressive in the engine room, but Burns was the master builder behind Ulster’s thumping opening statement.
His half-back partnership with John Cooney was the toast of the Guinness PRO14 last season and Burns dampened Price’s emerging influence with expert use of the boot.
Price’s booming penalty kick from fully 50 metres with time ticking at the end of the first half was genius.
But it was Burns’ perfectly-judged kick to set up Gilroy for his second try, with the attack threatening to lose direction in the midfield, that got the biggest roar from the Kingspan faithful.
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.