Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021 will kick-off with an old fashion southern derby in a return to Friday night football.
The schedule for the second installment of the domestic competition has been announced, with 10 weeks of New Zealand derbies beginning on Friday 26 February, with the Highlanders hosting the Crusaders in Dunedin.
The first round will finish with the Hurricanes entertaining the Blues in Wellington on Saturday 27 February, while the Chiefs enjoy the bye in the opening week.
The Waikato franchise will begin their campaign in round two against the Highlanders in Hamilton.
Auckland rugby fans will have to wait a bit before they get to see action, with the Blues' first home game at Eden Park coming in round three against the Highlanders.
There is a mixture of matches spread across all three weekend days, maintaining the popular Sunday afternoon clashes that returned in 2020.
The final between the top two sides after 10 weeks will take place on Saturday 8 May, contending the Tū Kōtahi Aotearoa trophy.
The Highlanders will host the Crusaders in the opening match of Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021. Photo / Photosport
New Zealand Rugby General Manager Professional Rugby & Performance Chris Lendrum said next year's competition will build on the foundation the 2020 tournament laid.
"We saw how exciting this home and away format was... all five teams now know what's required to compete and win every week. With the availability of the All Blacks locked in for round one there are going to be fireworks from the opening whistle.
"It's fantastic to have some certainty for fans, players and partners after what's been a year of uncertainty. Confirming the 2021 draw is a significant milestone and a positive step for rugby in New Zealand and we're thrilled to have our broadcast partner Sky come on board as naming rights sponsor.
"We've listened to the fans and our players and added a Final, which we think will provide a fitting climax to the competition."
As the naming rights partner, Sky Chief Executive Martin Stewart said Sky was delighted to offer support.
"Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa is a world class competition featuring many of the best players in the world and our coverage and analysis needs to mirror this action on the field. We'll be looking to take fans even closer to the action in every aspect in 2021 and we can't wait for the first match.
With four consecutive titles under their belt, the Crusaders are set to enter the competition as favourites once again.
NZ Rugby is also working closely with Ruby Australia over trans-Tasman matches between respective Super Rugby sides, and more details will be released shortly.
2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa schedule:
Highlanders vs Crusaders, Dunedin – Friday 26 February, 7:05pm
Hurricanes vs Blues, Wellington – Saturday 27 February, 7:05pm
Chiefs vs Highlanders, Hamilton – Friday 5 March, 7:05pm
Crusaders v Hurricanes, Christchurch – Saturday 6 March, 7:05pm
Crusaders vs Chiefs, Christchurch – Saturday 13 March, 7:05pm
Blues vs Highlanders Auckland – Sunday 14 March, 3:35pm
Hurricanes vs Chiefs, Wellington – Saturday 20 March, 7:05pm
Blues vs Crusaders, Auckland –Sunday 21 March, 3:35pm
Highlanders vs Hurricanes, Dunedin – Friday 26 March, 7:05pm
Chiefs vs Blues, Hamilton – Saturday 27 March, 7:05pm
Round 6 (Easter Weekend)
Crusaders vs Highlanders, Christchurch – Friday 2 April, 7:05pm
Blues vs Hurricanes, Auckland – Saturday 3 April, 7:05pm
Highlanders vs Chiefs, Dunedin – Saturday 10 April, 7:05PM
Hurricanes vs Crusaders, Wellington – Sunday 11 April, 3:35pm
Highlanders vs Blues, Dunedin – Friday 16 April, 7:05pm
Chiefs vs Crusaders, Hamilton – Saturday 17 April 7:05pm
Round 9 (Anzac weekend)
Chiefs vs Hurricanes, Hamilton – Friday 23 April, 7:05pm
Crusaders vs Blues, Christchurch – Sunday 25 April, 3:35pm
Hurricanes vs Highlanders, Wellington – Friday 30 April, 7:05pm
Blues vs Chiefs, Auckland – Saturday 1 May, 7:05pm
Final – Saturday 8 May