New twist to Super Rugby
NEWS: Not only does the complicated, unpopular and confusing Super Rugby format stay in place for 2017, it has a new twist to it.
Thursday matches have been introduced to the already lengthy and cumbersome schedule.
With an alarming drop in attendance figures - despite SANZAAR best efforts to put a positive spin on the ridiculous format - Thursday matches are unlikely to drive up the numbers at the stadium turnstiles.
The competition will kick off on Thursday, February 23, when the Melbourne Rebels host the Blues.
The Sharks will be the first South African side in action when they take on the Reds in Brisbane a day later.
The Thursday kick-off is a first for Super Rugby and is followed a week later by another Thursday match between the Western Force and the Reds in Perth.
The opening round of action will see two South African derbies - both on Saturday, 25 February - when 2016 runners-up, the Lions, travel to Bloemfontein to face the Cheetahs, while the Stormers will host the Bulls in Cape Town.
The Hurricanes will start off their title defence in Tokyo against the Sunwolves, while 2016 Australian conference winners, the Brumbies, will play the Crusaders in Christchurch.
It will be the second season for the 17-round, four-conference tournament structure that sees each team play 15 matches and have two byes.
As in 2016, each team will play six matches within its own conference and nine matches against other conference teams.
SANZAAR, in an effort to convince themselves that the discombobulated and cumbrous format is actually working, suggested analysis of the new bonus point system showed it provided an "increased level of competitiveness" and rewarded those teams with an attacking mind-set.
Despite the increase in the number of matches compared to previous years the average number of points scored per match increased from 45.3 to 52.0 while tries were up from 5.1 to 6.4 per match.
SANZAAR, conveniently, forgot to mention that the increased in average points per match could be contributed to the higher number of blow-outs - the result of a diluted system with more teams unable to be competitive throughout the season.
The 2017 June Test window, and in particular the British & Irish Lions series in New Zealand, has an impact on the match schedule.
Fixtures in early June and July have therefore been scheduled around the various June Tests and the matches between the British & Irish Lions and the five New Zealand Vodacom Super Rugby teams.
Of course, there is the usual spin-doctoring from SANZAAR, who may as well add a few more As to their name to make themselves feel good.
"The new season is set to be another enthralling, action-packed one as we enter the second year of the 18-team conference-style tournament," said SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos.
"We saw some fantastic rugby earlier this year and we look forward in particular to the continued development of the new franchises that added exciting new territories and colour to the tournament
"The schedule will see four Sunwolves matches played in Tokyo and three matches in Singapore, while eight matches will be hosted by the Jaguares in Buenos Aires. Both these teams made their Super Rugby debuts in 2016, with the Southern Kings from South Africa returning after their brief spell in 2013.
"It is anticipated that all three teams will be better for the experience of 2016 as we look forward to seeing their continued improvement. Super Rugby continues to be the toughest rugby tournament in the world given the high level, week-to-week competition and the travelling that is undertaken.
"We enjoyed a global audience of just over 50 million viewers for the 20th edition of Super Rugby with just over 2 million fans attending the matches. I would like to say a big thank you to all the fans and supporters for their support through 2016 and look forward to having our competition entertain and entice you through 2017," added Marinos.
* For the 2017 schedule CLICK HERE!