Sanzar reveals African conferences

The Lions will become the first team to play a Vodacom Super Rugby match in Japan when the 18-franchise competition kicks off in February next year.

They will face the Tokyo-based franchise at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium on the opening Saturday of the season (27 February) as confirmed by the draw, which was issued by Sanzar on Monday.

The Cheetahs will become the first team to play the new entrant from Argentina, when they host the Buenos Aires-based team in Bloemfontein a few hours earlier on the competition’s opening evening, Friday, 26 February.

The Kings return to the competition with a coastal derby against the Sharks, while the opening round is completed for South African teams with a north-south derby at Newlands with the Stormers hosting the Vodacom Bulls.

The six South African teams are grouped in two African pools along with the new entrants from Japan and Argentina.

Africa Conference 1 – which will play against the Australian conference in 2016 – is made up of the Vodacom Bulls, Cheetahs, Stormers and the Japanese team.

Africa Conference 2 features the Kings, Lions, Sharks and the Argentinian team and will play against the New Zealand conference.

The existing 10 Australasian teams will be divided into New Zealand and Australian pools.

The winners of each pool will earn automatic entry to the play-offs. The next highest-ranked team from the African conference will also be placed in the play-offs along with the three next highest-ranked teams from Australasian conference.

The African pools play home and away against teams in their pool. They play either home or away against the teams in the other African pool and their programme is completed by matches against all the teams from either the Australian or New Zealand conference.

To lessen the travel burden on South African teams three of the Japanese entrant’s matches against SA teams will be played in Singapore.

The Cheetahs will add another first to the list by appearing at the Singapore National Stadium in round three followed by the Bulls (round five) and Stormers (round 12).

The new-look competition will also be contested for a new trophy. The chrome and gold-plated piece is intended to capture the prestige, grandeur and resilience of one of the world's toughest sporting competitions.

The 360-degree design features eight blade legs, representing the eight teams that will qualify for the play-offs, arranged to provide an iconic representation of a rugby ball and evoke visual nostalgic links to the former trophy, now eternal property of the Highlanders.

The 13.5kg prize features a flat base which caters for engraving and seamless expansion as more teams etch their name into Super Rugby history as champions of this prestigious competition in the coming years.

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