SYDNEY – The Super Rugby season will kick off earlier next year and run without a break for 21 weeks, organizers said Tuesday as they retained the current 15-team, three-conference format.
Governing body SANZAAR said the competition would start on Feb. 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 favor 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.