Brumbies and Hurricanes to kick off the 2016 season on Aussie soil in a replay of their 2015 semi-final clash on Super Rugby’s opening night.
Australian Rugby’s oldest rivalry continues when the NSW Waratahs host the Queensland Reds in an opening-round blockbuster in Sydney.
Western Force to begin their 2016 campaign at home to the Melbourne Rebels in another all-Aussie Round 1 battle in Perth.
Rebels to make historic Round 4 visit to Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo to become the first Aussie opponents for the new Japanese team.
Reds and Waratahs to square off again in an Easter Sunday showdown in Brisbane.
Brumbies to host seven-time champions Crusaders in a special Sunday afternoon ANZAC weekend clash in Canberra.
SANZAR today confirmed that Super Rugby is set for its most significant evolution yet with four conferences, three new teams, two new countries and a brand new trophy for the 2016 season.
The 2016 Asteron Life Super Rugby Draw, released today along with the unveiling of a new trophy for the competition, was packed with highlights for Australian Rugby fans.
This year fans will be treated to more Super Rugby than ever before, with a regular season consisting of 135 matches (up from 120 matches in 2015) and an eight-team finals series featuring seven crucial Finals matches including the Asteron Life Super Rugby Final.
The next chapter of the toughest and most exciting provincial rugby competition on earth begins with a double-header on Friday February 26 as the Highlanders begin their title defence against the Blues in Auckland before the Brumbies host the Hurricanes to cap an enormous opening night involving three of last year's four semi-finalists.
Rivalries don’t come any bigger than that between Australian Rugby’s oldest foes, the NSW Waratahs and Queensland Reds, who square off twice in the opening month of the season.
The Waratahs will play host in a Round 1 battle in Sydney before the bitter bordering rivals clash again in a blockbuster Easter Sunday showdown in Brisbane on March 27.
Super Rugby makes its first foray into Asia in 2016 when Japan makes its Super Rugby debut.
The Tokyo-based Japanese team will host South Africa’s Lions in the opening round but only have to wait until Round 4 to get their first look at an Aussie opponent when the Rebels make an historic visit to Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium on March 19.
The new Japanese outfit will also host the Western Force (Round 11) and Waratahs (Round 15) and will make its first trip to Australia to take on the Reds (Round 13) and Brumbies (Round 14) on back-to-back weekends in May.
In a new format for the competition, Australian teams will play six matches within their own Conference, plus five against the New Zealand Conference, four against a South African Conference and will have two byes across the 17-round regular season.
The Australasian Group features the Australian and New Zealand Conferences each comprising their existing five teams while the South African Group contains two Conferences with the Bulls, Cheetahs, Stormers and the Japanese team on one side, and the Kings, Lions, Sharks and the Argentinean team on the other.
The Australian teams will wait until 2017 to take on Super Rugby’s other newcomers from Argentina after being drawn to face the South African conference featuring the Bulls, Cheetahs, Stormers and the Japanese team in 2016. Under the new draw format, each team is guaranteed to play every other side in the competition over a two-year cycle.
The regular season will be followed by a knockout Asteron Life Super Rugby Finals Series featuring eight teams; the four conference winners plus the three next highest-ranked teams from the Australasian Group and the next highest-ranked team from the South African Group.
On the field, teams will vie for a stunning new trophy. The 13.5 kilogram chrome and gold plated piece captures the prestige, grandeur and resilience of one of the world's pre-eminent sporting competitions.
Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver said the release of the 2016 draw ushers in a new era of Super Rugby.
“The next evolution of Super Rugby has arrived and as well bringing three new teams, 15 more regular season matches and a new eight-team finals format, there is a genuine feeling among our fans that any one of our Aussie teams can hoist that shiny new trophy at the end of the season.
“The inclusion of teams from Japan and Argentina opens Super Rugby up to a huge population of new fans and gives those fans the opportunity to get out and watch some of the best players in the world playing in the toughest provincial Rugby competition in their own backyard.
“We know there is an enormous appetite for the game in Japan with an estimated 20 million Japanese fans tuning in to the Rugby World Cup so far, spurred on by the national team’s stunning upset of South Africa.”
“We look forward to when our Australian teams visit the Japanese team in Tokyo and will be watching with keen interest when the Argentinians make their entry into the competition.
Pulver said the draw offered plenty of highlights for fans in Australia.
“We have some blockbuster games on the public holiday weekends, in particular the Reds’ clash with the Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium on Easter Sunday and the Brumbies’ battle with the Crusaders on ANZAC weekend in Canberra.”
“When you look across the board at the Australian teams, every one of our teams at full strength can make a strong push for the finals. I really believe we are going to see the closest race for the Australian Conference title that we’ve ever witnessed.”
Click here to view the full 2016 Asteron Life Super Rugby Draw
The Evolution of Super Rugby at a glance:
Expansion to 18 teams with the addition of the Kings from South Africa and new teams from Japan and Argentina which will be unveiled following the Rugby World Cup
Four conferences in two groups:
Australasian Group: Australian Conference (Brumbies, Force, Rebels, Reds, Waratahs), New Zealand Conference (Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders Highlanders, Hurricanes)
South African Group: Africa Conference 1 (Bulls, Cheetahs, Stormers, Japanese Team), Africa Conference 2 (Kings, Lions, Sharks, Argentinean Team)
15 Regular Season games per team (8 home/7 away or vice-versa over a two-year cycle)
Two byes per team
135 Regular Season and 7 Finals matches (up from 120 and 5 currently)
Eight-team knockout Super Rugby Finals Series to be staged over three weeks (5 qualifiers from the Australasian Group and 3 from the South African Group)
The four Conference winners automatically qualify for the Finals Series, along with the next three highest-ranked Australasian Group teams and the next highest-ranked South African Group team