GRANT BALL looks at the South African sides’ fixtures for the inaugural Super Rugby competition in 2011.
In a World Cup year the tournament is shortened compared to what it will be from 2012, with the league stage completed on 18 June, and the final played on 9 July. That said, the increase in the number of matches and the length of the tournament ensures that squad depth will be vital. There is more uniformity in that each South African side will tour Down Under for four matches, where in the past some sides had five-match Australasian trips.
All the South African sides play eight matches home and away against teams from their own conference (in this case, the other South African teams). They also each play four away games against Australasian opposition, and four home matches against other Australian and Kiwi teams. That results in a total of 16 league matches for each side and two bye weekends for the respective teams, with South African sides not playing one Australian or New Zealand franchise each year.
For example, the Lions will be happy to avoid playing the Crusaders in 2011, but conversely they also miss out on a fixture against the new side, the Rebels. All the South African outfits travel overseas for four matches, with the Lions having a tough away trip late in the league stages against the Brumbies, Tahs, Highlanders and Hurricanes. If the Lions don’t make the play-offs by being one of the top six sides, their season will end before the completion of the league stages as they have the last of their two byes in the final week.
The defending champion Bulls don’t play the Blues – who beat them this year – and the Brumbies, and travel to play two tough Kiwi franchises, the Hurricanes and Saders, and the Reds and Force overseas. They’ll also host the Rebels, Landers, Chiefs and Tahs at Loftus.
The Stormers are in the strange position where they won’t play on the opening weekend as they have a bye in week one. They don’t meet the Canes and this year’s semi-finalists the Tahs, who they beat twice in 2010. They face the Saders at home and their four-week tour includes matches against the Chiefs and Blues, two sides who they’ve done well against in the past away from home. They finish with matches against the Brumbies and the Rebels in an unfamiliar venue in Melbourne.
The Sharks won’t play the Highlanders and Reds next year and have some tricky matches at home, including the Blues, Canes, Brumbies and Tahs. Their tour, which they undertake from week three, starts off nicely against the Force and Rebels, but they have to travel to play the Chiefs and finally the Crusaders.
The Cheetahs don’t play the Chiefs and Force in 2011. Their first taste of Australasian opposition will be on the road, and with their poor overseas record they’ll face the Tahs, Reds, Blues and Landers away from home.