Cape Town — The 2019 Super Rugby tournament kicks-off in four weeks' time (Friday, February 15) in Hamilton, New Zealand with a Kiwi derby between two of last year's quarter-finalists as the Chiefs host the Highlanders.
It is followed that same evening by the Australian derby between the Brumbies and Rebels in Canberra. The remainder of the opening weekend will see plenty of exhilarating action with the Blues hosting the Crusaders, the Hurricanes travelling to the Waratahs, the Sunwolves hosting the Sharks in Singapore, the Bulls taking on the Stormers and the Jaguares looking to start the year on a high hosting the Lions.
The excitement is starting to build ahead of the kick-off. The 15-teams have announced their squads, the teams are in full training and a host of pre-season trial matches are about to signal the start of the season.
The teams have some interesting fan engagement activations this year including the South African teams who will wear Marvel-inspired super hero jerseys in their domestic derby matches. The shirts will also be worn in the double-header trial matches in Cape Town on February 3. The Jaguares have launched a new team brand and logo, while in Australia all home matches will be themed to support initiatives such as community rugby, ANZAC Day, heritage and women's rugby.
The New Zealand campaign will be centred on "Raising the Stakes" and themed rounds will include well-being, a salute to service (ANZAC) and a diversity round. The Sunwolves in Japan will be the perfect warm-up for fans ahead of Rugby World Cup later in the year.
"In 2019, Super Rugby will run uninterrupted for 21 weeks from February to July and will have no international break in June as we have had in previous years. This is a huge plus for the tournament and there will also be a uniform start to the tournament in Round 1 with a full round of seven matches to kick-off Super Rugby," SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said via a press statement.
"A Rugby World Cup year is always very exciting for rugby and Super Rugby 2019, and indeed the Rugby Championship later in the year, will provide the ideal platform for all players to push for selection for their national teams and at the same time allow the national coaches the opportunity to assess all the available talent on display in the southern hemisphere. We expect an exciting and action-packed tournament."
The tournament's 15-team, three-Conference format sees each team play 16 regular season conference matches that include eight matches within their own Conference (home and away) and four matches against teams from each of the other Conferences (home or away). Each team also has two byes. This is a total of 120 matches in the regular season that will be followed by a seven-match, eight-team finals series.
Marinos added: "Super Rugby is one of the hardest sporting tournaments in the world given its length, intensity and geographical spread and this year we will see the Super Rugby brand delivered in seven countries.
"The first round will see matches played in five countries with Hamilton (New Zealand) joined as a host city by Canberra (Brumbies v Rebels, Australia), Auckland (Blues v Crusaders, New Zealand), Sydney (Waratahs v Hurricanes, Australia), Singapore (Sunwolves v Sharks), Pretoria (Bulls v Stormers, South Africa) and Buenos Aires (Jaguares v Lions), Argentina.
"During the season the Sunwolves will play two of its matches at the Singapore National Stadium, the Round 1 clash with the Sharks and Round 6 against the Lions. The Chiefs will once again take one of its home matches to Fiji and will play the Crusaders in Suva in Round 16. It will be third such meeting between the teams in Fiji with each having won a match in Suva."
There are also several matches in regional areas this season with a Round 3 match in Palmerston North (New Zealand) between the Hurricanes and Brumbies, a Round 7 match in Newcastle (Australia) between the Waratahs and Sunwolves, while in Round 18 Invercargill (New Zealand) will host the Highlanders versus Waratahs match.
The Finals Series will remain unchanged with each of the three Conference winners qualifying for and hosting a quarter-final. The team with the most tournament points that is not a Conference winner, regardless of Conference, will host the fourth quarter-final. This Wildcard team will be joined in the quarter-finals by the next best four Wildcard teams based on tournament points and regardless of Conference.
Australia Conference: Brumbies, Rebels, Reds, Waratahs, Sunwolves
New Zealand Conference: Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders, Hurricanes
South African Conference: Bulls, Lions, Sharks, Stormers, Jaguares