Ulster's 27-21 triumph ensured one of Celtic Rugby's top trophies went to Ireland for the third successive season. Leinster and Munster were the first two winners of the three nation tournament, but Welsh giants Llanelli Scarlets denied Ulster the double by beating them at Stradey Park in a thrilling finale to the first full season of home and away Celtic League fixtures to finish as deserved Champions.
While new Ulster coach Mark McCall will start his campaign against Frank Hadden's Edinburgh side at Meadowbank on Saturday, 4 September, the Scarlets will commence their defence at The Borders the night before - giving new Borders coach Steve Bates the toughest of opening assignments.
'It's going to be a bigger challenge to try to retain the title than it was winning it last season,' said Scarlets coach Nigel Davies. 'We have put ourselves up there to be shot at and no doubt everyone will raise their game a couple of levels when we meet them.
'It won't be easy starting at The Borders - we believe they have significantly strengthened their squad and it is always hard to judge the likely strengths of any side in the first game when there has been so much movement in the summer. The Borders let themselves down last season and will be looking for a big improvement and, obviously, a winning start against us.'
Edinburgh's task will be to overturn three defeats by Ulster in the league and cup last season when they host them again. Ulster were 41-3 victors in the equivalent League fixture at Meadowbank last season and they won the return home tie at Ravenhill comfortably enough 37-0.
'It's great to kick-off the season with a home game and the fact we will be playing Ulster makes it all the more interesting,' said Edinburgh coach Frank Hadden. 'As they demonstrated in the Celtic Cup final at Murrayfield, they have some fantastic supporters and they always travel in big numbers to Scotland. It should be a cracking game and it will be a fantastic way for some of my fledgling players to test themselves against one of the top teams in the tournament.
'We had 19 players who played for the Scottish senior side last season and we were delighted with the progress we made as a team in both of the Celtic tournaments and the Heineken Cup. The challenge now is to build on that progress and become an even better side.
'The Celtic League is the life blood of professional rugby in the three Celtic nations and we want to ensure that Scotland provides the strongest possible challenge for the top domestic honours.'
Munster face a tricky away start against a much improved Ospreys side on Friday, September 3, Connacht entertain Glasgow in Galway the next day, while Leinster will host Cardiff Blues in Dublin in their first Sunday fixture in the competition.
New Dragons coach Chris Anderson, the former Australian rugby league Test player and coach, couldn't have asked for a bigger game to kick-off his new job in rugby union as he will have to take his team to Cardiff Arms Park to face the Blues. At least his players will get an extra week to prepare as they are the team given a bye on the first weekend.
'It's a really exciting way to start the season and it shows what a credible tournament the Celtic League is. Not only are we playing against a top side at a great venue, but we are also engaging our biggest rivals,' said Dragons chief executive Andy Marinos.
'Chris has already done his research on the history of Welsh rugby and knows that teams from Newport and Cardiff have been slugging it out since the year dot. That rivalry remains even though we have changed our names and it will be great for our fans to have the Blues coming to Rodney Parade over the Christmas period.
'We were very proud to finish in third place in the Celtic League last season and even prouder to have gone through the season without suffering a home defeat. That is something to build on for Chris and our new squad, but we all know that the standard and stature of this tournament is growing and growing.
'It was hard for everyone last season with the World Cup in the middle of the season, and games going head to head with international call ups for the Six Nations games, but with those pressures taken away I'm sure we are going to see an even stronger challenge from the Irish sides with the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Ronan O'Gara and Peter Stringer taking centre stage for their provinces far more frequently.'
The second and third weekends of the Celtic League have been turned into domestic affairs with some mouth-watering local derbies scheduled to whet the appetites of the fans. In Wales, The Scarlets will host arch-rivals The Ospreys and The Blues will battle against The Dragons on week two, while the following weekend The Dragons will entertain the Scarlets and The Ospreys will entertain The Blues.
In Ireland, Ulster's home record will come under threat from Leinster and Munster will receive Connacht in round two, while Ulster will travel to Connacht and Munster to Leinster in round three. The Scottish supporters meanwhile, will have the big 'Inter-City' derby between Glasgow and Edinburgh to savour on week two and then The Borders against Glasgow the next weekend.
'This will be the second full season of home and away fixtures in the Celtic League and all the signs are that the tournament is set to continue it's tremendous growth and appeal. The fact it will provide the ranking for the Scottish and Welsh clubs for Heineken Cup qualification once again is another key factor and the addition of a play off place on offer for another Celtic side will keep the lower end of the table bubbling right until the final whistle,' said Tournament Director, Keith Grainger.
'The Celtic League has now got broadcast partnerships with four main partners; BBC Wales and S4C in Wales and Setanta in Ireland. We also hope to be in a position to confirm details of a new LIVE match broadcast partner in Scotland'.
The top eight teams in the Celtic League will qualify for a revamped Celtic Cup competition that will be played over three weekends in April and May.
CELTIC LEAGUE FIXTURES 2004-2005 Week One
September 03/04/05 Friday 03 September The Ospreys v Munster 19:05 The Borders v Llanelli Scarlets 19:30 Saturday 04 September Connacht v Glasgow Rugby 14:30 Edinburgh Rugby v Ulster 15:00 Sunday 05 September Leinster v Cardiff Blues 17:15 The Dragons (free) Week Two
September 10/11/12 Friday 10 September Llanelli Scarlets v The Ospreys 19:05 Saturday 11 September Cardiff Blues v The Dragons 17:30 Glasgow Rugby v Edinburgh Rugby 15:00 Munster v Connacht 20:05 Ulster v Leinster 17:15 The Borders (free) Week Three
September 17/18/19 Friday 17 September The Dragons v Llanelli Scarlets 19:05 Saturday 18 September Connacht v Ulster 14:30 Leinster v Munster 17:15 The Ospreys v Cardiff Blues 17:30 Sunday 19 September The Borders v Glasgow Rugby 16:00 Edinburgh Rugby (free) Week Four
24/25/26 September Friday 24 September Cardiff Blues v Connacht 19:05 Glasgow Rugby v The Dragons 19:30 Leinster v The Borders 19:30 Saturday 25 September Llanelli Scarlets v Edinburgh Rugby 17:30 Ulster v The Ospreys 17:15 Munster (free) Week Five
Friday 01 October The Dragons v Leinster 19:05 Saturday 02 October Connacht v The Borders 14:30 Edinburgh Rugby v Cardiff Blues 15:00 The Ospreys v Glasgow Rugby 17:30 Sunday 03 October Munster v Llanelli Scarlets 17:15 Ulster (free) Week Six
Friday 08 October The Borders v The Ospreys 19:30 Ulster v The Dragons 19:05 tbc Saturday 09 October Llanelli Scarlets v Connacht 17:30 Glasgow Rugby v Munster 19:30 Sunday 10 October Leinster v Edinburgh Rugby 17:15 Cardiff Blues (free) Week Seven
15/16/17 October Friday 15 October The Borders v The Dragons 19:30 The Ospreys v Leinster 19:05 Saturday 16 October Connacht v Edinburgh Rugby 14:30 Glasgow Rugby v Ulster 19:15 Munster v Cardiff Blues 17:15 Llanelli Scarlets (free) 22/23/24 October Heineken Cup Pool Games Round One
29/30/31 October Heineken Cup Pool Games Round Two
05/06/07 November Friday 05 November Leinster v Connacht 19:30 The Dragons v The Ospreys 19:05 Saturday 06 November WALES V SOUTH AFRICA 14:45 Ulster v Munster 17:15 Sunday 07 November Cardiff Blues v Llanelli Scarlets 15:05 tbc Edinburgh Rugby v The Borders 16:00 Glasgow Rugby (free) Week Nine
12/13/14 November Friday 12 November WALES V ROMANIA 19:00 Edinburgh Rugby v The Ospreys 19:30 The Borders v Ulster 19:30 Saturday 13 November IRELAND V SOUTH AFRICA 14:45 SCOTLAND V JAPAN 17:30 Cardiff Blues v Glasgow Rugby 17:30 Munster v The Dragons 20:05 Sunday 14 November Llanelli Scarlets v Leinster 17:30 tbc Connacht (free) Week Ten
19/20/21 November Friday 19 November Glasgow Rugby v Llanelli Scarlets 19:30 Munster v The Borders 19:30 The Dragons v Edinburgh Rugby 19:05 Ulster v Cardiff Blues 19:30 Saturday 20 November IRELAND V USA 13:00 SCOTLAND V AUSTRALIA 14:45 WALES V NEW ZEALAND 17:30 Sunday 21 November The Ospreys v Connacht 17:05 tbc Leinster (free) Week Eleven
26/27/28 November Friday 26 November WALES V JAPAN 19:00 Edinburgh Rugby v Munster 19:30 Leinster v Glasgow Rugby 19:30 The Borders v Cardiff Blues 19:30 Saturday 27 November SCOTLAND V SOUTH AFRICA 14:45 IRELAND V ARGENTINA 17:30 Sunday 28 November Connacht v The Dragons 13:05 Llanelli Scarlets v Ulster 17:30 tbc The Ospreys (free) 03/04/05 December Heineken Cup Pool Games Round Three 10/11/12 December Heineken Cup Pool Games Round Four
17/18/19 December Friday 17 December Glasgow Rugby v Connacht 19:30 Llanelli Scarlets v The Borders 19:05 Ulster v Edinburgh Rugby 19:30 Saturday 18 December Cardiff Blues v Leinster 17:30 Munster v The Ospreys 20:05 The Dragons (free) Week Thirteen
26/27 December Sunday 26 December The Ospreys v Llanelli Scarlets 16:00 tbc Monday 27 December Connacht v Munster 16:00 Edinburgh Rugby v Glasgow Rugby 15:00 Leinster v Ulster 17:05 The Dragons v Cardiff Blues 16:00 tbc The Borders (free) Week Fourteen
01/02 January Saturday 01 January Cardiff Blues v The Ospreys 16:00 tbc Glasgow Rugby v The Borders 16:00 Ulster v Connacht 16:00 Sunday 02 January Llanelli Scarlets v The Dragons 16:00 tbc Munster v Leinster 17:05 Edinburgh Rugby (free)
January 07/08/09 Heineken Cup Pool Games Round Five
January 14/15/16 Heineken Cup Pool Games Round Six
January 21/22/23 Connacht v Cardiff Blues Edinburgh Rugby v Llanelli Scarlets The Borders v Leinster The Dragons v Glasgow Rugby The Ospreys v Ulster Munster (free) Week Sixteen
January 28/29/30 Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh Rugby Glasgow Rugby v The Ospreys Leinster v The Dragons Llanelli Scarlets v Munster The Borders v Connacht Ulster (free) Week Seventeen
February 18/19/20 Connacht v Llanelli Scarlets Edinburgh Rugby v Leinster Munster v Glasgow Rugby The Dragons v Ulster The Ospreys v The Borders Cardiff Blues (free)
March 04/05/06 Cardiff Blues v Munster Edinburgh Rugby v Connacht Leinster v The Ospreys The Dragons v The Borders Ulster v Glasgow Rugby Llanelli Scarlets (free)
March 18/19/20 Connacht v Leinster Llanelli Scarlets v Cardiff Blues Munster v Ulster The Borders v Edinburgh Rugby The Ospreys v The Dragons Glasgow Rugby (free)
March 25/26/27 Glasgow Rugby v Cardiff Blues Leinster v Llanelli Scarlets The Dragons v Munster The Ospreys v Edinburgh Rugby Ulster v The Borders Connacht (free)
Week Twenty One
April 08/09/10 Cardiff Blues v Ulster Connacht v The Ospreys Edinburgh Rugby v The Dragons Llanelli Scarlets v Glasgow Rugby The Borders v Munster Leinster (free)
Week Twenty Two
April 15/16/17 Cardiff Blues v The Borders Glasgow Rugby v Leinster Munster v Edinburgh Rugby The Dragons v Connacht Ulster v Llanelli Scarlets The Ospreys (free)
April 29/30/01st May Celtic Cup Q/Finals
May 06/07/08 Celtic Cup S/Finals
May 14/15 Celtic Cup Final