Rugby News

Rugby-Champions Crusaders face Highlanders in Super Rugby Aotearoa opener

Nov 10 (Reuters) - Otago Highlanders will welcome defending champions Canterbury Crusaders in the opening round of Super Rugby Aotearoa on Feb. 26 after New Zealand Rugby (NZR) announced the schedule here for the second edition of the domestic competition on Tuesday.

Wellington Hurricanes face Auckland Blues the following day and Waikato Chiefs host the Highlanders on March 5 after receiving an opening round bye. All 21 games of the competition, including the final on May 8, will be broadcast live.

New Zealand set up Super Rugby Aotearoa this year for its five professional franchises after the broader Super Rugby championship was abandoned because of the COVID-19 crisis.

“We saw how exciting this home and away format was last year, and all five teams now know what’s required to compete and win every week,” NZR head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum said in a statement.

“With the availability of the All Blacks locked in for round one there are going to be fireworks from the opening whistle. It’s fantastic to have some certainty for fans, players and partners after what’s been a year of uncertainty.”

Hurricanes CEO Avan Lee said teams were encouraged by how the competition was received.

“Super Rugby Aotearoa generated big crowds and fantastic in-ground atmosphere. It’s very clear the format was popular with fans and I think that’s an extremely positive prospect moving forward into next season,” Lee said.

Waikato Chiefs CEO Michael Collins said: “Our first game at home is expected to be big one since we had two close matches against the Highlanders ... We’re sure supporters will welcome having our All Blacks available for our first match, including captain Sam Cane.”

Lendrum said NZR is working with Rugby Australia on a trans-Tasman competition and would announce details soon. (Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru Editing by David Goodman )