Lions tour throws spanner in Super rugby scheduling
The 2013 Super Rugby season will kick off with more of a whimper than a bang, with only Australian sides contesting the competition's opening round due to a clash with the British and Irish Lions' tour Down Under.
The Lions' nine-match tour in June and July includes matches against all five of the Australian Super Rugby sides along with three fixtures against the Wallabies, meaning staggered rest periods throughout the southern hemisphere provincial tournament, which runs from February to August.
The opening weekend of the 15-team competition will feature only two Australian derbies, with the Melbourne Rebels hosting the Perth-based Western Force (February 15) and the Canberra-based ACT Brumbies taking on the Queensland Reds at home the following evening.
The other teams from South Africa and New Zealand have to wait until the following weekend, barring the seven-time champion Crusaders who have a bye and won't play their first match until March 1 when they travel to Auckland to take on the Blues.
The Australian teams all take a break from Super Rugby from mid-June to allow for the Wallabies' matches against the Lions on June 22, 29 and July 6.
The break does not align with the June Test window set down for South Africa and New Zealand, meaning another weekend featuring only Australian derbies on June 7-8.
"The Lions tour to Australia presented some unique challenges in preparing the 2013 Super Rugby draw," Greg Peters, chief of the competition's governing body SANZAR, said.
"We are very appreciative of cooperation we received from the national unions and broadcasters in preparing this draw and working through the issues."
The 2013 season will also see the debut of the Eastern Cape-based Southern Kings who replace the relegated Lions in the South African conference after the Johannesburg-based team finished last in 2012.
The Kings, who bid to join the competition last year but were overlooked in favour of the Rebels, play their first match against Force on February 23 at their home Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.
The defending champion Chiefs open their tournament with a New Zealand derby away to the Otago Highlanders on February 22.
The season concludes with a three-week play-offs series starting July 19 and culminating with the final on August 3.