Super Rugby is just hours from embarking upon a bold new era with 18 teams from five countries playing throughout seven nations all competing for one glittering prize!
With pre-season fixtures providing the last chance to try new combinations and new talent, all teams are now eager to get their 2016 campaigns underway with all of them eyeing a conference topping position to guarantee a home play-off.
The expanded two-group, four-conference model will see each conference winner qualify for the Finals Series with the last four ‘wildcard’ spots going to the next three best teams from Australasia and the next best team from the South African Group.
Australian Conference: Brumbies, Force, Rebels, Reds, Waratahs
New Zealand Conference: Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders, Hurricanes
South African Conference 1: Bulls, Cheetahs, Stormers, Sunwolves
South African Conference 2: Jaguares, Kings, Lions, Sharks
The next chapter of the toughest and most exciting provincial rugby competition on earth gets underway on Friday as the Highlanders begin their title defence against the Blues in Auckland before the Brumbies host the Hurricanes to cap an enormous opening double-header involving three of last year’s four semi-finalists.
Fans will then get their first highly-anticipated look at the Jaguares, who play their maiden Super Rugby match in Bloemfontein against the Cheetahs before a ‘Super Saturday’ commences with over 12 continuous hours of action!
The Lions travel to Tokyo for a historic afternoon clash against the Sunwolves at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, the first Super Rugby match to be played in Japan, before a pair of local derbies between traditional foes Crusaders v Chiefs and Waratahs v Reds keeps the Round 1 action rolling.
Focus then shifts to the west coast of Australia with the Force hosting the Rebels in Perth before South Africa gets its moment to shine with the Kings welcoming the Sharks to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for their Super Rugby return and the Stormers locking horns with the Bulls at DHL Newlands to round out an incredible opening weekend.
SANZAAR Chief Executive, Andy Marinos, said: “For the first time in the 21-year history of the competition, Super Rugby will be played in seven countries throughout the course of the season. This reflects our strong global appeal and steadfast ambition to consistently deliver one of the best rugby products on earth to as many fans as possible.”
“Super Rugby has long been the backbone of the success of our international teams, providing thorough preparation, both mental and physical for the demands of the Test match cauldron where we again look forward to seeing players from the top four nations at the 2015 Rugby World Cup renew their rivalries at a provincial level, and the emergence of new young talent in this tough competition.”
Marinos also confirmed that the 2016 SANZAAR offering will have extensive coverage across six continents with an expanded delivery in North and South America as ESPN had signed on as a partner, broadcasting Super Rugby from the northern-most tip of Alaska to the southern-most point of Patagonia.
“We are also thrilled to have been able to renew our agreements with our host broadcasters in our core territories extending a 20-year relationship with these fantastic partners and into Europe through our partners there, who have for an extended period been showcasing all that is good about our competition into their markets. We also welcome J Sports in their maiden season as a host broadcaster out of Japan, along with extended coverage through Setanta into Asia Pacific and the Americas through an established and respected broadcaster in ESPN.”
Round 1 (all times local, full draw at SuperRugby.com)
Fri 26 Feb: Blues v Highlanders @ Eden Park (19:35)
Fri 26 Feb: Brumbies v Highlanders @ GIO Stadium (19:45)
Fri 26 Feb: Cheetahs v Jaguares @ Toyota Stadium (19:00)
Sat 27 Feb: Sunwolves v Lions @ Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium (13:15)
Sat 27 Feb: Crusaders v Chiefs @ AMI Stadium (19:35)
Sat 27 Feb: Waratahs v Reds @ Allianz Stadium (19:45)
Sat 27 Feb: Force v Rebels @ nib Stadium (18:55)
Sat 27 Feb: Kings v Sharks @ Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium (15:05)
Sat 27 Feb: Stormers v Bulls @ DHL Newlands (17:15)