Highlanders’ draw improvement of sorts

Confirmation of the revised Super Rugby Pacific draw hit inboxes yesterday and it contained some good news for the Highlanders.

Coach Tony Brown was unavailable to comment but his side will not have to spend the opening four weeks of the competition on the road.

It is still not a great draw — the Highlanders will play three away New Zealand derbies in the first four weeks.

But a home game against the Crusaders in the second week is an improvement and offers some reprieve.

Super Rugby Pacific had to be revamped due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.

The new schedule retains the same competition format announced in November but will feature the six New Zealand-based teams and six Australian-based teams playing their opening eight games on different sides of the Tasman.

All 12 teams will converge on Melbourne for a super round beginning on April 22.

New Zealand Rugby general manager of professional rugby and performance Chris Lendrum said it was great to be in a position to provide teams and fans certainty.

"We believe the full round-robin schedule, the super round, bye rounds, themed rounds and playoffs were all critical to retain in revising the schedule.

The Highlanders will now open their season in Hamilton, against the Chiefs, on February 19.

They return home to play the Crusaders the following week before travelling for away games against the Hurricanes and Blues.

Back-to-back home games, against the Blues and Moana Pasifika, follow on March 18 and 26.

A trip to Christchurch and then a home encounter with the Hurricanes round out the New Zealand section of the draw.

At that point, the competition is scheduled to be played on both sides of the Tasman.

New Zealand’s border is slated to open to vaccinated non-Kiwis at the end of April, but as Omicron cases rise in Australia, the goalposts on travel are constantly shifting. The latest change arrived on Tuesday when the Government announced plans to allow fully vaccinated Kiwis and residents to enter the country from Australia, without requiring managed isolation, had been pushed back from mid-January until at least the end of February.

Five rounds of transtasman matches are scheduled to follow the super round in Melbourne, culminating in quarterfinals, semifinals and the final on June 18.

Highlanders’ revised Super Rugby draw

Feb 19: Chiefs, Hamilton, 4.35pm
Feb 26:  Crusaders, Dunedin, 7.05pm
Mar 5:  Hurricanes, Wellington, 7.05pm
Mar 11: Blues, Auckland, 7.05pm
Mar 18: Moana Pasifika, Dunedin, 7.05pm
Mar 26: Blues, Dunedin, 4.35pm
Apr 1: Crusaders, Christchurch, 7.05pm

Apr 16: Hurricanes, Dunedin, 7.05pm

Apr 22: Brumbies, Melbourne, 2pm
Apr 30: Fiji Drua, TBC, 4.35pm
May 6: Reds, Brisbane, 7.45pm
May 13: Force, Dunedin, 7.05pm
May 22: Waratahs, Dunedin, 3.35pm
May 29: Rebels, Melbourne, 2pm

— Additional reporting The New Zealand Herald


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