Vodacom Super Rugby kicks off earlier than usual next year when one of the world’s premier rugby tournaments begins on Friday 31 January and continues without the usual June breakthrough 21 weeks of exhilarating action.
There is no change to the 15-team format with each side playing 16 pool matches before the three-week finals’ series. Every side will play home and away matches against the other four teams in their conference as well as matches against four teams in the other two conferences with two byes thrown in during the regular season.
Because each team plays four of the five sides in the two external conferences, the Cell C Sharks are not scheduled to meet the Blues from the New Zealand Conference or the Sunwolves from the Australian Conference.
The Cell C Sharks will start our campaign against the Vodacom Bulls at JONSSON KINGS PARK on Friday 31 January before hitting the road overseas.
Our first stop is Dunedin for the opening clash of the Antipodean tour, taking on the Highlanders (Friday) and then the Hurricanes (Saturday) before heading to Australia where the Rebels await (Saturday 22 February). The four-week tour will close off against the Reds at the end of February.
A week later, the Cell C Sharks are back home to host this year’s losing finalists and South African Conference winners the Jaguares on Saturday 7 March and the following Saturday is our second home derby, against the Stormers.
International flavour returns to JONSSON KINGS PARK on Saturday 21 March when the Chiefs visit from New Zealand and then comes a much-needed bye at the halfway stage following an unbroken run of eight matches.
April heralds the first away match against local opposition when the Cell C Sharks travel to Joburg to take on the Emirates Lions (Saturday 4 April) before we host the Waratahs at home the following Saturday.
The next weekend sees the return leg match against the DHL Stormers in Cape Town with the final match against Australian opposition coming next, the Brumbies visiting Durban a week later.
Saturday 2 May has the Emirates Lions coming to Durban for the second-round match with the second overseas trip following the next Saturday when we travel to Argentina to take on the Jaguares again.
The final two games will be played against the Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria with a home game against the champions Crusaders closing out our pool stage commitments on Saturday 23 May. The next weekend has the action continuing for all teams but the Cell C Sharks who enjoy our second bye before the qualifiers on Saturday 6 June.
The semi-finals take place on Saturday 13 June with the final scheduled for Saturday 20 June.