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Lions tour impacts on Super Rugby draw


Georgina Robinson

The Chiefs open their Super Rugby defence in round two against the Highlanders.

The Chiefs open their Super Rugby defence in round two against the Highlanders. Photo: Getty Images

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika’s new methods will be put to the test in a trial match against the Crusaders in February next year.

The Valentine’s Day game is a far cry from the warm-up matches the Waratahs played against young sides from Samoa and Tonga in the lead up to this season and will give fans, as well as Cheika, an indication of where the squad is heading a week before the official start of their 2013 campaign.

‘‘How they handle pressure, the opposition, how they react to certain situations - these are all game-related things that you can’t simulate in training,’’ Cheika said.

The Waratahs will have played a trial match against the Rebels in Hobart and a second warm-up against a New Zealand team by the time they meet the Crusaders on a Thursday night at Allianz Stadium.

The regular season kicks off a day later on February 15 with an all-Australian first round scheduled to accommodate the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia in June.

The Force meet the Rebels in Melbourne and the Reds play the Brumbies at Canberra Stadium, while the Waratahs have the bye.

NSW take on the Reds at Suncorp Stadium for their first match of the competition on Saturday, February 23 and stay in Australia for the next five rounds.

Another blockbuster match-up between the Waratahs and Reds, at ANZ Stadium, finishes the regular season.

The Waratahs, keen for more day-time matches at Allianz Stadium, will host the Blues and Force in back-to-back Sunday afternoon encounters in round six and seven.

Defending champions, the Chiefs, begin their title defence in Dunedin against the Highlanders, while the Bulls and Stormers start the season for the South African teams.

The draw, released today, also includes the debut match of new South African team the Southern Kings from Port Elizabeth, who took the place of competition wooden spooners the Lions, from Johannesburg, last month.

The Kings are scheduled to make their debut against the Western Force in round two at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on February 23.

Due to the Lions tour of Australia, the home-and-away season extends to 20 weeks which will include two weekends of Australian derbies and two other rounds only involving South African and Kiwi sides.

The Force will be early-season travellers and must wait until round six before their first home game against the Cheetahs on March 23.

All five Australian sides will play against the touring Lions before the Wallabies three-Test series, which isn't aligned with the All Blacks and Springboks internationals.

It makes for staggered rest periods and a disrupted draw with the Australian sides breaking from Super Rugby when the Wallabies-Lions clash from June 22 to July 6.

"The Lions tour to Australia presented some unique challenges in preparing the 2013 Super Rugby draw," SANZAR chief executive Greg Peters said.

"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."

The six-team finals series starts on July 19 with the final scheduled for August 3.

with AAP

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