We're back! 2013 Investec Super Rugby action set to kick-off
The pre-season cobwebs have been blown off and New Zealand's five Investec Super Rugby teams are set for the start of the 2013 season.
New Zealand teams have a break in the first round with only Australian teams playing at home this coming weekend. Defending 2012 Super Rugby champions the Chiefs get their 2013 campaign under way travelling to Dunedin to face the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium next Friday night.
That's followed by the first big hit-out for Sir John Kirwan's new-look Blues team against the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday 23 February.
Speaking at the official launch of the 2013 Investec Super Rugby season in Auckland today, New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) Chief Executive Steve Tew said there was much to look forward to in the new season.
"2013 looks set to deliver more of the type of game that is envied around the world - fast, exciting, colourful rugby that continues to be an excellent platform for All Blacks selection."
The New Zealand teams have something extra to play for this season.
"In the New Zealand conference, teams will be playing for a new BNZ Cup which will be awarded to the team that earns the most competition points from all the season's New Zealand derby matches.
"With a total 125 matches before playoffs, 40 matches played on New Zealand soil, 20 of which are local derby matches, there's plenty on offer in 2013.
"This season we have several players set to celebrate their 100th Super match including Piri Weepu (Blues), Kieran Read (Crusaders), Hosea Gear (Highlanders), Andy Ellis (Crusaders), Ben Franks (Hurricanes), Liam Messam (Chiefs) and Chris King (Highlanders).
"The mix of that experience with the exciting talent of the 43 players newly contracted to Investec Super Rugby will create great competition for spots in the starting 15 while adding real spark to the on-field rivalry.
"As well as the new talent, there are some old faces in new colours and some old faces in new roles, new laws come into play, and referees will sport a pink strip thanks to a new partnership with Pink Batts, which we announced yesterday.
"Last year fans really took to Investec Super Rugby with both game attendance up over 40 per cent, and broadcast audiences on SKY up 25 per cent," Tew said.
"But we take nothing for granted and the franchises have been working hard behind the scenes to get their teams ready and to help create a fantastic rugby experience for fans at their home grounds."
Saturday 2 February
Crusaders 26 v Hurricanes 27, Alpine Energy Stadium, Timaru
Chiefs 36 v Highlanders 14, Owen Delany Park, Taupo
Reds 41 v Blues 35, Toowoomba Sports Ground, Toowoomba
Friday 8 February
Highlanders 38 v Crusaders 21, Whitestone Contracting Stadium, Oamaru
Reds 8 v Chiefs 20, Stockland Stadium, Sunshine Coast
Saturday 9 February
Blues 40 v Waratahs 36, Toll Stadium, Whangarei
Rebels 45 v Hurricanes 47, Simonds Stadium, Geelong
Still to be played:
Thursday 14 February
Waratahs v Crusaders, 19:30, Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Friday 15 February
Highlanders v Blues, 17:30, Recreation Ground, Queenstown
Saturday 16 February
Hurricanes v Chiefs, 15:00, Mangatainoka RFC, Mangatainoka
Investec Super Rugby opening season action
Round 1: Australian teams only
Fri 22 February, Highlanders v Chiefs, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Sat 23 February, Hurricanes v Blues, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Crusaders - bye
Fri 1 March, Blues v Crusaders, Eden Park, Auckland
Fri 1 March, Hurricanes v Reds, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Sat 2 March, Chiefs v Cheetahs, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Highlanders - bye