The Lions will be the first team to play a Super Rugby match in Japan when the new-era, 18-team competition kicks off in February 2016. They will face the Tokyo franchise at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium on Saturday, 27 February as confirmed by the draw, which was issued by Sanzar yesterday. Sanzar (South African, New Zealand and Australian Rugby) is the body charged with running two of the world's pre-eminent Rugby Union competitions Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship. The Cheetahs will similarly become the first team to play the new entrant from Argentina, when they host the Buenos Aires-based team in Bloemfontein on the competition's opening evening, Friday, 26 February. The Kings return to the competition with a derby against the Sharks, while the opening round is completed for a game at Newlands, where the Stormers will host the Bulls. The six South African teams are grouped into two African pools along with the new entrants from Japan and Argentina. The existing 10 Australasian teams will be divided into New Zealand and Australian pools. The winners of each pool will earn automatic entry into the knockout Vodacom Super Rugby Finals Series. The next highest-ranked team from the African conference will also be placed in the Finals Series along with the three next highest- ranked teams from the Australasian conference.
Unbridled excitementSanzar interim chief executive officer Brendan Morris said fans could look forward to the upcoming season with a great deal of optimism and enthusiasm. "We are in the envious position to be delivering our great brand of rugby to new cities and international markets, unlocking a host of commercial opportunities and delivering the unbridled excitement of Super Rugby to a legion of new and existing fans, " he said. "As successful as our competition has been in the past, we cannot rest on our laurels. We want to grow our fan base and ensure existing fans stay loving our game. We will be working hard alongside our national unions, teams, broadcasters and venues to keep finding new and innovative ways to ensure Super Rugby continues to be the best provincial rugby competition in the world both on and off the field, " Morris said. The African pools play home and away against the other teams in their pool; they also 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. Africa Conference 1, which will play against the Australian conference in 2016, is made up of the Bulls, Cheetahs, Stormers and the Japanese team. Africa Conference 2, which will play against the New Zealand conference in 2016, features the Kings, Lions, Sharks and the Argentinian team. To lessen the travel burden on the South African teams, three of the Japanese entrant's matches against South African 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).
New trophyThe new-look competition will also be contested for a new trophy, made by Blue Sky Design. 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 Finals Series, arranged to provide an iconic representation of a rugby ball and evoke visual nostalgic links to the former trophy. It is now eternal property of the Highlanders. The 13.5kg prize has a flat base catering for engraving and seamless expansion as more teams etch their name into Super Rugby history as champions in the coming years.
About Super RugbyAccording to Sanzar, in 1986, the Australian teams of New South Wales and Queensland played against Auckland, Canterbury and Wellington from New Zealand, as well as a composite Fiji side. "For five years the tournament was played, a South Pacific Championship or Super Six, which led to 'expansion' when South Africa re-entered the rugby world and it was reborn into the Super 10 in 1993, where it ran until 1995, prior to the game becoming professional. "In 1996, as Sanzar was formed, the Super 12 was created, a professional competition and the first official 'international domestic' tournament featuring the strongest teams which would become franchises across New Zealand, South Africa and Australia." In 2011, Super Rugby expanded to 15 teams, with the Melbourne Rebels the new franchise, and split into three conferences, each with five teams and based in one of the three nations.
Rugby World CupThere are eight Sharks players, seven Stormers, three Cheetahs and six Bulls players who are representing South Africa's Springboks in the Rugby World Cup in England this month. South Africa is in Pool B. Although the Springboks lost in their first match against Japan on 19 September, they beat Samoa 46-6 on 26 September, putting them second on the log of Pool B. Scotland is number 1. The Springboks will fly the flag high against Scotland on 3 October at St James Park in Newcastle.
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