Vodacom Super Rugby starts with a bang in Pretoria in 2013 with the Vodacom Bulls taking on 2012 South African conference winners, DHL Stormers in the opening weekend of local action. That same weekend, Super Rugby makes its long-awaited return to the Eastern Cape on 23 February when the Southern Kings host Australia's Western Force (kick off 19h10) in the final match of the first full round.The season opens in South Africa with the North-South derby at Loftus Versfeld. Last season's finalists, The Sharks, travel to Bloemfontein to meet the Toyota Cheetahs (kick off 17h05)
The Southern Kings kick off their debut season in the tournament at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth at the end of a round otherwise studded with conference derbies.
The fixtures were announced by SANZAR today (Friday) in a new-look draw which features a staggered start, and staggered resumption after the June internationals, to accommodate the British & Irish Lions' tour of Australia.
The Australian teams kick off one week earlier, and close one week later, as well as resuming two weeks later in July after the international window, in order to manage the extended Lions' schedule.
The tournament actually kicks off on February 15 but only Australian Conference teams will be in action. The same will occur in round 17 (just before the Vodacom Super Rugby season 'breaks' for the June inbounds), while rounds 18 and 19 (after the break) will feature only New Zealand and South African Conference teams.
"The Lions tour to Australia presented some unique challenges in preparing the 2013 Super Rugby draw," SANZAR CEO Greg Peters said.
"We are very appreciative of the cooperation we received from the National Unions and broadcasters in preparing this draw and working through the issues."
Peters said there was much excitement building despite being months out.
"Over the last two seasons we have seen two franchises – the Reds and the Chiefs –win the Super Rugby trophy for the first time," Peters said.
"The emphasis in early rounds is again on local derbies that have again proven to be the most watched and attended matches in 2012."
There is Sunday play in 2013 with the Blues hosting the Vodacom Bulls in round four, while the Waratahs will host consecutive Sunday fixtures in rounds six and seven – with the Crusaders, Brumbies and Force other teams to play on the last day of the weekend throughout the season.
Peters said the draw would build on the successes of 2012.
"The 2012 Super Rugby season was the most watched season of Super Rugby ever, both in terms of those attending matches live and also viewing on television. The 2013 draw will hopefully see us grow those numbers again," he said.
The Vodacom Super Rugby Finals Series starts on Friday, 19 July, with the Super Rugby Qualifiers scheduled for that weekend – while the Super Rugby Semi-Finals will take place on 26 / 27 July, with the Super Rugby Final to be played on Saturday, 3 August.
The Vodacom Bulls schedule is:
Only Australian teams
22 Feb: Vodacom Bulls v Stormers (Pretoria)
2 March: Vodacom Bulls v Western Force (Pretoria)
10 March: Blues v Vodacom Bulls (TBC)
16 March: Crusaders v Vodacom Bulls (Christchurch)
23 March: Red v Vodacom Blue Bulls (Brisbane)
30 March: Brumbies v Vodacom Bulls (Canberra)
Vodacom Bulls bye
13 April: Vodacom Bulls v Cheetahs (Pretoria)
20 April: Kings v Vodacom Bulls (Port Elizabeth)
27 April: Vodacom Bulls v Waratahs (Pretoria)
4 May: Vodacom Bulls v Hurricanes (Pretoria)
Vodacom Bulls bye
18 May: Vodacom Bulls v Highlanders (Pretoria)
25 May: Sharks v Vodacom Bulls (Durban)
1 June: Cheetahs v Vodacom Bulls (Bloemfontein)
Australian Teams only
29 June: Vodacom Bulls v Kings (Pretoria)
6 July: Vodacom Bulls v Sharks (Pretoria)
13 July: Stormers v Vodacom Bulls
Super Rugby Qualifiers
19 & 20 July
Super Rugby Semifinals
26 & 27 July
Super Rugby Final