Leinster probably need no introduction in a United Rugby Championship context with the province topping the titles list and winning the last four Pro14 renewals.

That they were able to use 57 players when winning last season is testament to their strength in depth but also says something about how the Pro14 was seen as a testing ground.

With the infusion of South African blood to the format it will be interesting to see if they are able to dig so deep this season.

There are no URC rounds due to take place during the international windows so the periods of unavailability for the internationals might be shorter than usual. That, of course, depends on everything going smoothly.

United Rugby Championship: How it works

The Dublin-based side normally have to contend with a large number of Ireland call-ups but it's a challenge they have been well able to meet, to say the least.

They lost two regular season games in 2020/21 and a grand total of zero in the previous season.

In the aftermath of Leinster’s loss to La Rochelle in the Champions Cup semi-final last season, the quality of Pro14 opposition was mentioned as a reason for their defeat, not preparing them sufficiently for top European competition.

The four-time European champions, who will be without Scott Fardy through retirement, will hope that the tide of the new teams, unlike the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings, can raise all boats and provide stiffer opposition.

Benetton’s success in the Rainbow Cup also offers hope that the Italians can up their game a notch.

The Blues, with Stuart Lancaster as senior coach, are the kingpins of this league and have set an almost immaculate standard for the rest to follow.

Their season begins with a 5.15pm kick-off against the Vodacom Bulls on Saturday, 25 September in the Aviva.

Last season: Winners; finished in fourth place in European section of Rainbow Cup

Total titles: 8

Head coach: Leo Cullen (seventh season in charge)

Leo Cullen: "You see South Africa with the Lions [tour], winning the World Cup, it’s a rugby-mad country and it’s such a big market place as well. For the growth of our tournament, it’s a great step.

"The future is very exciting for the tournament because the quality, the history and tradition of those four teams that are joining, the quality of players that they have as well. It’s a market worth pursuing. There’ll be a lot more high-pressure games."

Key player: Out-half Ross Byrne (above, r) has slipped down the Ireland pecking order but is likely to be an important figure once again as Leinster bid for domestic and European glory. Will face competition from younger brother Harry among others.

One to watch: Flanker Scott Penny (above) was named on the team of the year, was joint top try-scorer and named as the Next Gen star last season. Covid-19 restrictions meant that very few got to see the young Dubliner in the flesh.

Facing incredible competition for a spot in Leinster’s back row with six Ireland internationals in the queue, Penny’s trajectory will be well worth keeping an eye on.

Players in: Prop Michael Ala'alatoa (Crusaders) and scrum-half Nick McCarthy (Munster) have joined the club, while forwards Thomas Clarkson, Michael Milne and back David Hawkshaw have been promoted from the academy.

Players out: Michael Bent, Scott Fardy, Rowan Osbourne, Hugh O'Sullivan, Cian Kelleher, Greg McGrath, Sam Illo, Will Hickey, Paddy Patterson, Karl Martin.

Champions Cup opponents: Montpellier, Bath