Super Rugby 2013 draw: Kings in, all-Australian opening round
An all-Australian opening round will kick off the 2013 Super Rugby competition which includes a new team from South Africa.
The Port Elizabeth-based Kings franchise has replaced the 2012 wooden-spooners, the Lions from Johannesburg, following several years of political lobbying for a team in the south.
The 2013 draw was unveiled on Friday with the Kings scheduled to make their debut against the Western Force in round two at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on February 23.
Due to the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia, the home-and-away season extends to 20 weeks which will include two weekends of Australian derbies and two other rounds only involving South African and Kiwi sides.
The Melbourne Rebels will host the Force in the season-opener on February 15 while the Brumbies will be at home to the Queensland Reds the following night.
The NSW Waratahs have a first-round bye before meeting arch-rivals Queensland in round two at Suncorp Stadium.
The Waratahs, keen for more day-time matches at Allianz Stadium, will host the Blues and Force in back-to-back Sunday afternoon encounters in round six and seven.
The Force will be early-season travellers and must wait until round six before their first home game against the Cheetahs on March 23.
All five Australian sides will play against the touring Lions before the Wallabies three-Test series, which isn’t aligned with the All Blacks and Springboks internationals.
It makes for staggered rest periods and a disrupted draw with the Australian sides breaking from Super Rugby when the Wallabies-Lions clash from June 22 to July 6.
“The Lions tour to Australia presented some unique challenges in preparing the 2013 Super Rugby draw,” SANZAR chief executive Greg Peters said.
“The 2012 Super Rugby season was the most watched season of Super Rugby ever, both in terms of those attending matches live and also viewing on television. The 2013 draw will hopefully see us grow those numbers again.”
The defending champion Chiefs begin their campaign in Dunedin against the Highlanders in round two while the Bulls and Stormers kick off the season for the South African conference.
The Super Rugby finals series will kick off with qualifiers on 19-20 July, semi-finals on 26-27 July and the competition final to be staged on Saturday, 3 August.© AAP 2013