Cape Town - Southern hemisphere governing body SANZAAR on Tuesday confirmed the draw for the 2020 Super Rugby season.
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The tournament will kick off on Friday, January 31 (08:05 SA time) with the Blues hosting the Chiefs in the first match in Auckland.
In the day's second match, the Brumbies tackle the Reds in an all-Australia derby in Canberra (10:15 SA time).
Later that evening, the Sharks entertain the Bulls in all-South African derby in Durban (19:10).
The Stormers open their account against the Hurricanes the following day in Cape Town (Saturday, February 1 - 15:05), while the Lions are away to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires (23:40 SA time).
Other matches on the opening weekend see the Sunwolves duel the Rebels in Fukuoka (Saturday, February 1 - 05:45 SA time) and the Crusaders host the Waratahs in Nelson (Saturday, February 1 - 08:05 SA time).
Super Rugby's continued international footprint will see matches played in six countries across the 18-week regular season, with matches played in Argentina, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa.
The World Rugby international Test match window for inbound matches/tours to Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa is scheduled for July which allows Super Rugby to be played uninterrupted across the 21-week tournament time frame (including the three-week finals series).
"Super Rugby remains one of rugby's premier tournaments and features many of the best teams and players in the world. The unique nature of this tournament, that covers a geographical spread across Argentina, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, not only reinforces its global reach but the fact that it remains the toughest tournament in the world," SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos commented via a press statement.
Marinos also explained the earlier than usual start to the tournament: "2020 will see a season of uninterrupted action from February to July due to the shift of the inbound international rugby window from June to July. An earlier than usual start has been required to get through the 21-week tournament and provide the SANZAAR national teams with a clear week leading into the July Test series.
"The complexity of the draw and managing logistics and scheduling that delivers a draw that is fair and equitable has been our priority. This has been achieved with a consultative and collaborative approach with the national unions, Super Rugby teams and broadcasters.
"With the majority of our players benefitting from a longer than usual off-season due to RWC 2019, we expect the teams to deliver another compelling tournament across its 120 matches. One that produces a competitive race for the finals similar to that which we saw this year when 11 teams were still in the hunt for a finals berth on the last weekend.
"The schedule has 22 match venues confirmed and it is exciting that Super Rugby will once again venture into several new venues and cities. It has been confirmed that Hanazono Stadium, Osaka and Level Five Stadium, Fukuoka in Japan will host Sunwolves matches, while the Waratahs will play at WIN Stadium, Wollongong in Australia."
Super Rugby's 15-team, three-Conference format remains the same in 2020. Each team plays 16 regular season conference matches that include eight matches within their own Conference (home and away) and four matches against teams from each of the other Conferences (home or away). Each team also has two byes. This is a total of 120 matches in the regular season.
The Finals series will again comprise a seven-match, three-week, eight-team series. Each of the three Conference winners will host a quarter-final. The team with the most tournament points that is not a Conference winner, regardless of Conference, will host the fourth quarter-final. This Wildcard team will be joined in the quarter-finals by the next best four Wildcard teams based on tournament points and regardless of Conference.
Australian Conference: Brumbies, Rebels, Reds, Waratahs, Sunwolves (Japan)
New Zealand Conference: Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders, Hurricanes
South African Conference: Bulls, Lions, Sharks, Stormers, Jaguares (Argentina)
Compiled by Herman Mostert