Sydney – The Super Rugby season will kick-off earlier next
year and run without a break for 21 weeks, organisers said on Tuesday as they
retained the current 15-team, three conference format.
Governing body SANZAAR said the competition would start on
February 15 – a week earlier than this year – when the Chiefs host the
Highlanders in New Zealand.
The season will run uninterrupted until the final on July 6.
This is because there are no June Tests due to the World Cup being held in
Japan from September to November.
Aside from these tweaks, the format remains the same with
three conferences involving 15 teams, with each playing 16 games.
The finals series is also unchanged with eight qualifying
from the three conference winners, along with five wildcards.
SANZAAR, which released the schedule three months earlier
than usual, is currently conducting a review to determine Super Rugby’s future
up to 2030.
There were reports last month that three more South African
teams could leave to play in Europe, disillusioned with competing in time zones
spread across the globe.
It follows Super Rugby axing three teams this year – one
from Australia and two from South Africa – after the old 18-team model lost
favour with fans and led to a slump in television viewers.
SANZAAR denied any teams wanted to walk away and said its
review would “address the challenges facing our game and to clearly
articulate SANZAAR’s vision and purpose in terms of a sustainable future”.
Australia’s Fairfax Media last month cited a leaked paper
titled “SANZAAR 2030 Strategy” as examining a push into North
America. It reportedly raised the possibility of a 20-team, four-conference
format likely to feature at least one US team.