• Reuters


Japan will get its first taste of Super Rugby action at Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground in Tokyo on Feb. 27 when the new Japanese franchise hosts the Lions of Johannesburg, tournament organizers said on Monday.

The Japanese team, which has yet to unveil a team name or squad list, has been drawn in one of two South African Conferences alongside the Bulls, Cheetahs and Stormers.

The Japanese will play three home matches — against the Cheetahs (Round 3), Bulls (Round 5) and Stormers (Round 12) — at the National Stadium in Singapore as part of a deal struck before beating out a bid from the Southeast Asians to become Super Rugby’s 18th side.

The new Japanese side is expected to feature many of the players currently competing at the Rugby World Cup in England, where they shocked the world with a 34-32 win over South Africa in Group B.

Super Rugby organizer SANZAR said more details about the Japanese franchise would be “formally unveiled in the coming months,” after recent speculation Japan could be stripped of the place following a lack of progress.

The body said details about the new Argentine team would also come in due time.

The South American side begins its campaign in Bloemfontein, South Africa, against the Cheetahs, as the tournament expands from 15 to 18 teams.

The South Americans have been drawn in the other South African Conference alongside the Lions, Sharks and Kings, who return this year after their solo campaign in 2013.

“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,” SANZAR interim CEO Brendan Morris said in a statement.

The Otago Highlanders, the defending champions, start the new season on Feb. 26 when they visit the Auckland Blues, before the ACT Brumbies host the Wellington Hurricanes on an opening night involving three of last year’s four semifinalists.

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