SANZAAR have revealed that Super Rugby will host matches on a Thursday for the first time in 2017 with the release of next year’s schedule.
Having cast our eye over the list of fixtures, here are five takeaways:
1) Starting the Sunwolves campaign off by facing defending champions the Hurricanes is certainly a smart move for the continued growth of the game in Japan. Tuesday’s release of the 2017 schedule also coincided with it now being under three years until the start of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Attendances improved steadily throughout 2016 for the Sunwolves’ matches in both Japan and Singapore, so who better to kick off the new season against than arguably the most exciting side in the tournament featuring Beauden Barrett and the rest?
2) Sticking two Thursday night games at the top of the season is clearly a trial for the future, but one coach who won’t exactly be thrilled about the prospect is the new Force boss Dave Wessels.
Last year’s strugglers will only have four ‘off’ days in between their Round 1 and Round 2 matches, facing the Waratahs away on a Saturday before hosting the Reds the following Thursday, which is stretching their turnaround time to the limit – just ask a Tier Two nation at a Rugby World Cup.
Click on this link to download the 2017 Super Rugby match schedule.
3) Kicking off the new season with back-to-back away fixtures overseas means the Sharks and Jaguares have been given the short straw.
This in fact is the second year in a row that the Jaguares will start their campaign away in South Africa, except this time there’s no bye in Round 3 – just a swift return to Buenos Aires to take on last year’s finalists, the Lions. The Sharks meanwhile will take on the Reds and Brumbies in Australia.
4) If they want 2017 to be a success then the Rebels will have to run the gauntlet. A rough opening six rounds will see Tony McGahan’s squad take on four Kiwi franchises in the Blues, Hurricanes, Chiefs and Highlanders, as well as a derby against the Waratahs at AAMI Park.
There is some respite with a bye in Round 3, but that run of fixtures so early on will either make or break their play-off hopes at a premature stage. Oh, and their second bye comes in Round 7, meaning no rest from Round 8 onwards except for the international break in June, when their best players will be away with the Wallabies…
5) A similar format and the same number of teams returning means we will see the fourth August final in Super Rugby history, so mark down August 5 on your calendars.
Three weeks prior to that, the Round 17 slate is stacked full of potentially dramatic fixtures to decide who ends up where in the play-offs going into the Super Rugby Qualifiers. The outcomes of matches featuring Chiefs v Brumbies, Hurricanes v Crusaders, Sharks v Lions and Bulls v Stormers may all prove to be pivotal for the teams involved, and some teams not involved too.
Will the 2017 season be a success or failure? Let us know – firstname.lastname@example.org