Rugby union: Japanese Super Rugby side to open against the South African Lions

TOKYO (REUTERS) - World Cup giant-killers Japan will get their first taste of Super Rugby action at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo on Feb 27 when they host the Lions of Johannesburg, tournament organisers said on Monday.

The new Japanese franchise, yet to unveil a team name or squad list, have been drawn into one of two South African Conferences alongside the Bulls, Cheetahs, Stormers.

The Japanese will play three home matches - against the Cheetahs (Round 3 on March 12), Bulls (Round 5 on March 26) and Stormers (Round 12 on May 14) - at the National Stadium in Singapore as part of a deal struck before beating out a bid from the South-east Asians to become Super Rugby's 18th side.

The new Japanese side is expected to comprise many from the national team playing at the ongoing Rugby World Cup in England, where they shocked the world with a 34-32 win over South Africa in Group B last week.

Super Rugby organisers Sanzar said more details on the Japanese franchise would be "be formally unveiled in the coming months" after recent speculation Japan could be stripped of the place following a lack of progress.

The body said details would also come in due course on the new Argentinian team, who kick-off their campaign in Bloemfontein against the Cheetahs, as the tournament expands from 15 to 18 sides.

The South Americans have been drawn in the other South African Conference alongside the Lions, Sharks and Kings, who return this year after their solo campaign in 2013.

"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," Sanzar interim CEO Brendan Morris said in a statement.

Defending champions the Otago Highlanders kick-off the season on Feb 26 away to the Auckland Blues before the ACT Brumbies host the Wellington Hurricanes on an opening night involving three of last year's four semi-finalists.

The Australasian Group involves the Australian and New Zealand Conferences each featuring their existing five teams.

All sides will play six matches within their own conference, five against an Australasian Conference and four against a South African Conference over a 17-week regular season as they bid to make the eight-team knockout finals series.

The final will be played on Aug 6.