Whirlwind start to season for Sunwolves

Sunwolves fly-half Tusi Pisi (right), seen tackling Cheetahs scrum-half Shaun Venter, will be returning with his team to play three more of their games at the National Stadium next season. The Sunwolves face a difficult season opener against the defe
Sunwolves fly-half Tusi Pisi (right), seen tackling Cheetahs scrum-half Shaun Venter, will be returning with his team to play three more of their games at the National Stadium next season. The Sunwolves face a difficult season opener against the defending champions Wellington Hurricanes in Tokyo.ST FILE PHOTO

WELLINGTON • Sunwolves, the Singapore co-owned Super Rugby side who finished last in the series last season with just one win and a draw, face a daunting start to the new season.

They will take on defending champions Wellington Hurricanes in Tokyo on Feb 25 in their opening match.

They will play four of their home matches in Tokyo and three at the Singapore Sports Hub (against South African teams Southern Kings on March 4, Stormers on March 25 and Sharks on May 20).

Super Rugby will retain its much-criticised conference format next year, while tweaking kick-off times to trial Thursday night matches and increase the number of afternoon games.

Governing body Sanzaar introduced conferences last year to allow Super Rugby's expansion to 18 teams, including the Sunwolves, Argentina's Jaguares and the Southern Kings.

But the expanded competition - which straddles 16 time zones and four continents - resulted in complaints of lopsided contests, exhausting travel schedules and a fragmented four conference system seen as too complex.

In addition, the new teams struggled, particularly the Sunwolves, who managed just one win from 15 matches. Their solitary win came against the Jaguares.

Sanzaar chief Andy Marinos yesterday unveiled an unchanged format for next year, saying: "The new season is set to be another enthralling, action-packed one."

He predicted the new clubs would be more competitive next year.

"It is anticipated that all three teams will be better for the experience of 2016 as we look forward to seeing their continued improvement," he said.

"Super Rugby continues to be the toughest rugby tournament in the world."

The season kicks off with the Melbourne Rebels playing the Auckland Blues at home Feb 23 and culminates in the competition final on Aug 5.

There will be a short mid-season pause and some split rounds in June and July to accommodate international fixtures, including the British and Irish Lions' tour of New Zealand.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'Whirlwind start to season for Sunwolves'. Print Edition | Subscribe