Sanzaar has announced a restructured 2018 Super Rugby tournament, which will kick off in Cape Town on 17 February when the Stormers host the Jaguares.
The Lions will welcome the Sharks in Johannesburg directly after the Stormers match, while the Bulls have a bye during the opening weekend that sees the South African conference teams kicking off proceedings.
The Australian and New Zealand conferences will swing into action a week later when the Crusaders open their title defence at home against the Chiefs. The Brumbies will play against the Sunwolves in Tokyo.
The new 15-team competition will revert to a three-conference format, which will see the Sunwolves move across to the Australian conference, while the Jaguares form part of the South African group. The New Zealand conference remains unchanged.
Each team will play 16 round-robin matches that include eight matches within their own conference (home and away) and four cross-conference matches (home or away). The playoffs will comprise an eight-team, seven-match series.
‘Super Rugby is one of, if not the best, club rugby tournaments in the world, highlighted this year by a global TV audience of nearly 50 million and a final crowd in Johannesburg of 60,000,’ Sanzaar CEO Andy Marinos said.
‘It is a key high-performance pathway for players from the Sanzaar unions to transition from club to Test rugby, and this will continue to be the case in the future.
‘It was not an easy decision to reduce the number of teams, but a necessary one considering the outputs from the strategic review to date. The tournament was not working with 18 teams, the structure was confusing, the outcomes of matches were becoming too predictable, and the fans and stakeholders had, through our surveys, voiced their concerns.
‘In addition to the decisions that were taken around the Australian and South African conferences, Sanzaar has also been working hard with Japan and the Sunwolves. Their performances over the first two seasons have been disappointing and improvement is required.
‘A structural reform has been implemented where responsibility for the Sunwolves will move from the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) to the entity known as Japan Super Rugby Association (JSRA). We will be taking a more proactive role within its operating structures.’
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