Reigning champions Suntory Sungoliath will kick off the 2017-18 Top League season against Canon Eagles on Aug. 18, the Japan Rugby Football Union announced Monday.
Suntory, which won the league and cup double last season after also securing the All-Japan Championship, begins its campaign at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo against a Canon side looking to improve on its seventh-place finish.
The top division, comprised of 16 teams, will be divided into two groups of eight with the teams facing seven sides from the same group and six from the other. The top two teams from each group after 13 games will advance to the semifinals before the Jan. 13 final.
Three consolation finals will be held for the other 12 sides to determine the final league standings. The team that finishes bottom of the mini-tournament for 13th-16th will be relegated to the second-tier Top Challenge League, with teams placed 13th-15th heading to playoffs against the 2nd-4th placed teams from the TCL.
A total of 38 venues across 27 prefectures will stage the upcoming season, including the 12 municipalities that will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup.