The Melbourne Rebels will kick off the 2017 Super Rugby season, with a Thursday night match, for the first time.
Melbourne will host the Blues at AAMI Park on February 23 to open the season in Melbourne, their first Thursday night match since 2012.
That will be the beginning of a tough opening month for Melbourne, who play three New Zealand teams in the opening four rounds, including the reigning champion, Hurricanes.
The only other Thursday night match in the schedule will be played just a week later, between the Force and the Reds in Perth.
Aside from that scheduling novelty, the 18-team competition will play out similarly to its first iteration in 2016, with four conferences across Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and Argentina.
Cross-conference matches will be the only change, with the Australian conference taking on the second South African conference - Lions, Jaguares, Sharks and Kings - this season.
That crossover means the Australian teams will not play against the Stormers, Bulls, Cheetahs or Sunwolves this season, with the New Zealand teams playing matches against that conference.
The Reds, Force and Brumbies will all play the Jaguares for the first time in Buenos Aires, while the Waratahs and Rebels will host the Argentinian side.
Queensland will be the first to take on the second-year team, hosted in South America in round five.
The Waratahs will be the first team on a South African tour this season, hosting the Force in round one before a fortnight on the road, playing the Lions and the Sharks.
The Force's travel schedule will test them early, with the WA franchise playing just one home game in the first six rounds, though a round four bye will provide some respite from trips to Sydney, Canberra, Christchurch and Auckland.
The latter part of the competition will be scheduled around the inbound British and Irish Lions series in New Zealand and the other June Test series, with rounds 15 and 16 to be split over four weeks.
SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said he was looking forward to the new season.
“The tournament saw some fantastic rugby last year and we look forward in particular to the continued development of the new franchises that added exciting new territories and colour to the tournament,” he said.
“The schedule will see four Sunwolves matches played in Tokyo and three matches in Singapore, while eight matches will be hosted by the Jaguares in Buenos Aires. Both these teams made their Super Rugby debuts in 2016, with the Kings from South Africa returning after their brief spell in 2013.”
“It is anticipated that all 3 teams will be better for the experience of 2016 as we look forward to seeing their continued improvement. Super Rugby continues to be the toughest rugby tournament in the world given the high level, week-to-week competition and the travelling that is undertaken.”
ARU CEO Bill Pulver said he was expecting a big year from the Australian teams, in what will be one of change for many.
“Super Rugby is an unrivalled competition in the excitement and quality rugby it provides for fans. This year the average number of points scored per match increased from 45.3 in 2015 to 52.0 while tries were up from 5.1 to 6.4 per match,” he said.
“The 2017 season will be momentous for many of our Australian teams."
Super Rugby round one (AEST)
Thursday February 23 - Rebels vs Blues, 7:45pm
Friday February 24 - Highlanders vs Chiefs, 5:35pm
Friday February 24 - Reds vs Sharks, 8:00pm
Saturday February 25 - Sunwolves vs Hurricanes, 3:15pm
Saturday February 25 - Crusaders vs Brumbies, 5:35pm
Saturday February 25- Waratahs vs Force, 7:45pm
Sunday February 26 - Cheetahs vs Lions, TBC
Sunday February 26 - Kings vs Jaguares, TBC