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Lions tour cuts into Super Rugby schedule

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 19/09/2016

New Zealand's Super Rugby teams will take an extended break of up to five weeks in 2017 to cater for the touring British and Irish Lions.

Governing body Sanzaar released next year's draw on Tuesday and, as promised, there is no change to the competition structure which drew some criticism this year.

The same 18 teams return under a conference structure, with an identical play-off system opening the possibility of teams having home advantage despite boasting a worse record than rivals.

The biggest change is the size of the international window late in the competition.

It usually lasts three weeks but will instead be up to five for the Kiwi teams to cater for the visit of the Lions. The 10-match tour features games against each of the five New Zealand outfits.

Following round 15 on June 2-3, there will be five weekends away from Super Rugby for the Blues, Crusaders and Highlanders.

It will be four weekends for the Hurricanes and Chiefs who will meet on June 9 in the only match that weekend, with their Lions fixtures coming later in the month.

Rounds 15 and 16 in early July won't feature any New Zealand sides. Their return comes in the final round of the regular season, on July 14-15.

The three-week play-off window finishes with the final on August 5.

The opening match is Melbourne on February 23, when the Rebels host the Blues, the first of two Thursday fixtures in Australia over the opening two rounds.

The defending champion Hurricanes open their campaign away to the Sunwolves in Tokyo while the Highlanders host the Chiefs and the Crusaders are home to the Brumbies.

Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos said there is an acceptance that the competition structure has anomalies and changes are possible for the following season.

Following a meeting with the national unions, Super Rugby coaches and broadcasters in Sydney last week, Marinos said the main concerns was Australia's ability to maintain five competitive teams and South Africa six.

Marinos said the Australia, New Zealand and South Africa markets were reaching saturation point and the only way to drive "exponential" growth was to move into new countries.

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