The Sharks will play their first two matches of the 2017 Super Rugby season in Australia, while the Bulls, Cheetahs, Kings, Lions and Stormers will start the new season in South Africa.
The 2017 tournament will commence on Thursday 23 February with the Rebels hosting the Blues in Melbourne. The Thursday night kick-off is a first for Super Rugby and is followed a week later by another Thursday night match between the Western Force and Reds in Perth.
The Sharks will begin their season with a two-match tour of Australia. They will face the Reds in round one and the Brumbies in round two. The Sharks, along with the other teams in Africa 2, played against all the New Zealand sides in 2016. They will now face all the Australian teams (and none of those from New Zealand) during the conference stage. Teams from Africa 1, namely the Bulls, Cheetahs, Stormers and Sunwolves, will be pitted against New Zealand teams in 2017.
Five of the South African teams will, however, begin their respective campaigns in this country. The two South African conference winners in 2016, the Lions and Stormers, will play the Cheetahs and Bulls respectively. The Southern Kings will host the Jaguares.
It will be the second season for the 17-round, four-conference tournament structure that sees each team play 15 matches and have two byes. As in 2016 each team will play six matches within its own conference and nine matches against other conference teams.
The 2017 June Test window and, in particular, the British & Irish Lions series in New Zealand has an impact on the match schedule. Fixtures in early June and July have therefore been scheduled around the various June Tests and the matches between the British & Irish Lions and the five New Zealand Super Rugby teams.
Sanzaar CEO Andy Marinos is hoping for a more competitive tournament, and for an improved showing by the relatively new franchises, the Jaguares, Kings and Sunwolves.
'The schedule will see four Sunwolves matches played in Tokyo and three matches in Singapore, while eight matches will be hosted by the Jaguares in Buenos Aires. Both these teams made their Super Rugby debuts in 2016, with the Kings from South Africa returning after their brief spell in 2013.
'It is anticipated that all three teams will be better for the experience of 2016 as we look forward to seeing their continued improvement. Super Rugby continues to be the toughest rugby tournament in the world given the high-level, week-to-week competition and the travelling that is undertaken.
'We enjoyed a global audience of just over 50 million viewers for the 20th edition of Super Rugby with just over two million fans attending the matches,' added Marinos.