The Japan Rugby Top League’s first season after Japan hosts this year’s Rugby World Cup will begin on Jan. 12, the league announced Friday.
All 16 teams will play each opponent once in a round-robin format with the league championship handed to the points leader after 120 games, played in 30 different venues, are completed. This is a departure from recent formats, where the best regular-season teams advanced to a playoff round to decide the league champion.
The season will conclude on May 9.
The Top League season has started in late August or September in recent years, but a change was made for next season since Japan hosts the Rugby World Cup, which begins Sept. 20.
The Kobe Kobelco Steelers, last season’s champions, begin their title defense in Kobe against the Canon Eagles.
The Toyota Verblitz rejoin the Top League fold with an opening-day game against Yamaha Jubilo. Two Verblitz players were arrested this year on possession of cocaine and the team suspended activities in June.