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New Zealand Rugby has locked in dates for its domestic Super Rugby competition next year, adding a final in a likely boost to its strained finances.

The organization’s financial reserves have been almost halved this year as revenue slumped and it stepped up support to teams and provinces hard hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The success of the inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, rapidly assembled when the full Super Rugby tournament — involving clubs from five countries — was suspended in March as international borders closed, has been one of the bright spots of the past year.

The 2021 tournament will follow the same format as the first with home and away matches among New Zealand’s five Super Rugby teams. But next year’s competition will have a final — a luxury which couldn’t be included this year in a hastily arranged and compact tournament and because of uncertainty over local lockdown regulations.

The 2021 tournament is scheduled to begin Feb. 26 and the final is set for May 8. The format retains the Sunday afternoon matches which were popular with fans this year.

“It’s fantastic to have some certainty for fans, players and partners after what’s been a year of uncertainty,” New Zealand Rugby spokesman Chris Lendrum said. “Confirming the 2021 draw is a significant milestone and a positive step for rugby in New Zealand.

“We’ve listened to the fans and our players and added a final, which we think will provide a fitting climax to the competition.”

Australia also staged a domestic tournament involving its four Super Rugby clubs and the Perth-based Western Force and is also likely to go ahead with a similar competition format next season.

International rugby returned last month when Australia played two tests in New Zealand. The All Blacks are in Australia now for a Tri-Nations series that also involves Argentina.

The Tri-Nations tournament was quickly established when World Cup champion South Africa withdrew from the planned Rugby Championship because it didn’t have time to prepare its Springboks squad after a delayed start to its domestic alternative to Super Rugby.

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