The Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021 schedule has been revealed and it has one major change from this year's successful tournament - a final.
The 2020 edition was robbed of a completed schedule when the second Covid-19 lockdown saw the final match between the Blues and Crusaders at Eden Park cancelled.
The Crusaders had already locked away the new trophy the previous weekend with a victory over the Highlanders. Next season's tournament will see the top two sides meet to decide the champions.
2021 will kick off with an old fashioned southern derby in a return to Friday night football.
The schedule for the second installment of the domestic competition has been announced, with 10 weeks of New Zealand derbies beginning on Friday February 26, with the Highlanders hosting the Crusaders in Dunedin.
The first round will finish with the Hurricanes entertaining the Blues in Wellington on Saturday February 27, while the Chiefs enjoy the bye in the opening week.
The Waikato franchise will begin their campaign in round two against the Highlanders in Hamilton.
Blues fans will have to wait a bit before they get to see action, with the Blues' first home game at Eden Park coming in round three against the Highlanders.
There is a mixture of matches spread across all three weekend days, maintaining the popular Sunday afternoon clashes that returned in 2020.
The final between the top two sides after 10 weeks will take place on Saturday, May 8, contending the Tū Kōtahi Aotearoa trophy.
Next year's competition will build on the foundation of the 2020 tournament laid. We saw how exciting this home and away format was ... all five teams now know what's required to compete and win every week. With the availability of the All Blacks locked in for round one there are going to be fireworks from the opening whistle.
With four consecutive titles under their belt, the Crusaders are set to enter the competition as favourites once again.
NZ Rugby is also working closely with Rugby Australia over trans-Tasman matches between respective Super Rugby sides at the end of the tournament, and more details will be released shortly.
Super Rugby Aotearoa fact sheet:
After the Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021 NZ competition concludes, there will be a Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Competition which will feature 10 Super Rugby clubs, five from New Zealand and five from Australia, playing 25 matches over five weeks before a Final on Saturday 19 June. All 26 matches will be live and exclusive on Sky.
The Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders will play five matches against the Queensland Reds, NSW Waratahs, Brumbies, Melbourne Rebels and Western Force including two home matches each in New Zealand.
All teams will also play two away matches, while their fifth will be part of a ‘Super Round' featuring all Round 3 matches being played at one location, over one weekend.
The Final will be played between the top two teams after the five weeks of matches on the combined competition ladder with the team who finished first earning home advantage for the decider.
Round One (May 14-15)
Crusaders v Brumbies, Western Force v Chiefs, Melbourne Rebels v Blues, Highlanders v Queensland Reds, NSW Waratahs v Hurricanes
Round Two (May 21-22)
Chiefs v Brumbies, Western Force v Highlanders, Hurricanes v Melbourne Rebels, Queensland Reds v Crusaders, Blues v NSW Waratahs
Round Three - Super Round (May 28-29)
Blues v Brumbies, Hurricanes v Western Force, Melbourne Rebels v Highlanders, Queensland Reds v Chiefs, NSW Waratahs v Crusaders
Round Four (June 4-5)
Brumbies v Hurricanes, Crusaders v Western Force, Chiefs v Melbourne Rebels, Queensland Reds v Blues, Highlanders v NSW Waratahs
Round Five (June 11-12)
Brumbies v Highlanders, Blues v Western Force, Melbourne Rebels v Crusaders, Hurricanes v Queensland Reds, NSW Waratahs v Chiefs
Final (Saturday, June 19)
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