WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Super Rugby will start earlier than ever in 2020 to accommodate a 21-week season that is set to conclude by June 20. The traditional mid-year test matches have been pushed back to July to ensure there's no break in the provincial competition.
The schedule released Tuesday by organizers shows the season beginning Jan. 31 with a New Zealand derby between the Auckland-based Blues and Hamilton-based Chiefs.
The previous early start was in 2007 when the tournament began on Feb. 2. The 2019 season opened on Feb. 15.
Matches will also kick off earlier: games that previously started at 7.35 p.m. local time in New Zealand (0735 GMT) will now begin at 7.05 p.m. (0705 GMT) and matches that previously were scheduled to start at 5.35 p.m. local time in New Zealand (0535 GMT) will kick off at 4.45 p.m. (0445 GMT).
The defending champion Crusaders will begin their bid to win a fourth-straight title against the New South Wales Waratahs on Feb. 1.
Japan's Sunwolves will play in the tournament for the last time in 2020 before it reverts to a 14-team round-robin in 2021.
"The complexity of the draw and managing logistics and scheduling that delivers a draw that is fair and equitable has been our priority," SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos said. "With the majority of our players benefiting from a longer than usual off-season due to Rugby World Cup 2019, we expect the teams to deliver another compelling tournament across its 120 matches."
A tournament, he said "that produces a competitive race for the finals similar to that which we saw this year when 11 teams were still in the hunt for a finals berth on the last weekend."