WELLINGTON, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Factbox on the 2018 Super Rugby competition, which starts on Saturday:
* The season will run from Feb. 17 to Aug. 4 with a break for the test window in June.
* The competition, which had expanded to 18 teams for the last two seasons, has been reduced to 15 sides after concerns over falling television audiences, crowds and confusion around the playoffs system.
* South Africa’s Cheetahs and Kings have moved to Europe to play in the PRO14, while Australia’s Western Force have been dropped.
* The Waikato Chiefs return to Fiji for the third successive year with their away clash with the Otago Highlanders to be held in Suva on June 30.
* Teams earn four points for a win and two for a draw. Bonus points are awarded for finishing three or more tries ahead of your opponent or by losing by less than seven points.
* Teams have reverted to three conferences after they had been expanded to four conferences under the 18-team format.
New Zealand Conference: Otago Highlanders, Wellington Hurricanes, Canterbury Crusaders, Waikato Chiefs, Auckland Blues
Australia Conference: New South Wales Waratahs, ACT Brumbies, Melbourne Rebels, Queensland Reds, Sunwolves
South African Conference: Bulls, Stormers, Lions, Sharks, Jaguares
* Each team plays 16 matches. They face their conference opponents home and away and will take on eight of the remaining 10 sides in cross-pool matches.
* Every team has two byes.
* The three conference winners automatically qualify for the playoffs along with the next five highest-ranked teams on an overall table.
* The semi-final host teams will be the highest ranked winners from the respective quarter-finals.
* The competition started as the Super 12 in 1996, a year after the sport turned professional, and was expanded to 14 teams from 2006 and 15 in 2011 after the Melbourne Rebels were added. It was expanded in 2016 to include a sixth South African side, the Kings, and introduced teams in Argentina and Japan, but reduced to 15 from this season.
* New Zealand teams have dominated the competition, winning 15 of the 22 titles. The Canterbury Crusaders are the most successful with eight titles, including their first in eight years last season. All five New Zealand sides have lifted the Super Rugby trophy.
* South Africa’s Bulls are the only South African champions, having won the title in 2007, 2009, 2010.
* Australia’s ACT Brumbies have won the title twice (2001, 2004) while the Queensland Reds (2011) and New South Wales Waratahs (2014) have won it once each. (Compiled by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O’Brien)