The Emirates Lions will become the first ever South African Super Rugby team to play against the Japanese side the Sunwovles on 27 February at Tokyo’s Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium – the first Super Rugby match to be played in that country.
The first Japanese team to play in Super Rugby has been christened the “Sunwolves” as the tournament looks to expand its global footprint for the 2016 season.
The “new era” in Super Rugby will see an expanded 18-team competition featuring debut appearances from both a Japanese and an Argentinean team, the first time those countries have been included.
They will join existing member teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to fight across four conferences for a new chrome and gold-plated trophy.
Tournament organisers said the Japanese team’s name was taken from the country’s monniker as the “Land of the Rising Sun”.
The Australasian Group features the Australian and New Zealand Conferences each comprising their existing five teams, while the South African Group contains two Conferences with the Bulls, Cheetahs, Stormers and the Sunwolves on one side and the Kings, Lions, Sharks and the Argentinian team on the other, yet to be named.
Teams will play six matches within their own Conference, five against an Australasian Conference, four against a South African Conference and will have two byes across the 17-week Regular Season.
The Regular Season will be followed by a knockout Super Rugby Finals Series featuring eight teams; the four conference winners plus the three next highest-ranked teams from the Australasian Group and the next highest-ranked team from the South African Group.
SANZAR Interim Chief Executive Brendan Morris said: “As we stand eagerly on the cusp of a new era of Super Rugby, fans can look forward to the upcoming season with a great deal of optimism and enthusiasm.
“We are in the envious position to be delivering our great brand of rugby to new cities and international markets, unlocking a host of commercial opportunities and delivering the unbridled excitement of Super Rugby to a legion of new and existing fans.”
Opening week fixtures:
Auckland Blues v Highlanders, Auckland
ACT Brumbies v Wellington Hurricanes, Canberra
Cheetahs v Argentina, Bloemfontein
Japan v Lions, Tokyo
Crusaders v Waikato Chiefs, Christchurch
NSW Waratahs v Queensland Reds, Sydney
Western Force v Melbourne Rebels, Perth
Kings v Sharks, Port Elizabeth
Stormers v Bulls, Cape Town