New Zealand Rugby has confirmed the remodelled Super Rugby Pacific draw that will see the inaugural competition front loaded with local derbies due to Covid travel restrictions.
As reported by the Herald on Wednesday, Moana Pasifika will make their debut by hosting the Blues at Mt Smart Stadium on Friday, February 18.
The revamped competition starts on Australian soil the same night, with the NSW Waratahs hosting the Fijian Drua, while a Super Saturday start in New Zealand sees the Chiefs hosting the Highlanders in Hamilton and the Crusaders welcoming the Hurricanes to Christchurch.
The six New Zealand-based teams and six Australian-based teams, which includes fellow new entrants the Drua, will play their opening eight matches on different sides of the Tasman due to Covid travel restrictions.
The new schedule retains the same competition format announced in November with a full round robin and single points table followed by quarterfinals, semis and a final on June 18.
The revised draw maintains the key elements of the original draw with each team to playing a total of 14 matches during the regular season, 11 round-robin fixtures plus three additional rivalry matches which will see each team play a home and away series against three other teams.
All 12 clubs are scheduled to converge on Melbourne in round 10 for a 'super round' that will feature a unique celebration of the Anzac spirit and trans-Tasman fixtures will resume in Round 11 (29 April-1 May). The Super round was originally scheduled to be played in round two.
Family friendly afternoon kick-offs are a feature of the draw with 23 daytime matches in total, including 10 in New Zealand.
NZR general manager professional rugby and performance Chris Lendrum said it was great to be in a position to provide teams, fans and partners certainty ahead of the 2022 season.
"We are thrilled that we've been able to maintain the integrity of the draw with the key elements of Super Rugby Pacific remaining despite the disruptions caused by COVID-19. 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.
"I'd like to thank Rugby Australia, all 12 Super Rugby clubs, and our fans and partners, for their understanding, patience and flexibility in ensuring the competition is locked and loaded for 2022. The season opener between Moana Pasifika and the Blues shapes as an historic occasion in Auckland, as does the Fijian Drua's first match against the Waratahs on the same night."
Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos said: "We're pleased to be able to confirm the revised draw for Super Rugby Pacific. We believe these changes will allow us to navigate the ongoing challenges of Covid-19, while ensuring we maintain the integrity of the draw and the format of the new Super Rugby Pacific competition.
"It's been a challenging environment over the last two years, but we're thankful to our teams and our partners in New Zealand Rugby, Sanzaar and our broadcasters for their support as we worked through this process together.
"This is an exciting new era for Rugby in the Pacific and I would encourage all fans to get out and support their teams and sign up to catch all the action."
SUPER RUGBY PACIFIC AT A GLANCE
Friday 18 February: Moana Pasifika v Blues @ Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland.
12 teams: Moana Pasifika, Fijian Drua, Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders, Highlanders, Waratahs, Reds, Force, Brumbies, Rebels
14 regular season matches = 11 round-robin matches + 3 rivalry matches
One bye round per team (all byes in Rounds 7, 8 & 9)
Season Length: 18 weeks = 15-week regular season + three-week playoff series
Total Matches: 91
8-team playoffs format - QFs: June 3-5; SFs: 10-11 June; FINAL 18 June.
Round 10, Friday-Sunday 22-24 April @ AAMI Park Melbourne Park.
Highlanders v Brumbies; Moana Pasifika v Force; Blues v Fijian Drua; Hurricanes v Reds; Chiefs v Waratahs; Crusaders v Rebels.
New Zealand-based teams home and away rivalry matches:
Highlanders (H) Rd 4; (A) Rd 6
Chiefs (H) Rd 3; (A) Rd 8
Moana Pasifika (H) Rd 7; (A) Rd 1
Blues (H) Rd 8; (A) Rd 3
Crusaders (H) Rd 6; (A) Rd 4
Moana Pasifika (H) Rd 2; (A) Rd 9
Chiefs (H) Rd 4; (A) Rd 6
Highlanders (H) Rd 7; (A) Rd 2
Hurricanes (H) Rd 1; (A) Rd 8
Blues (H) Rd 6; (A) Rd 4
Crusaders (H) Rd 2; (A) Rd 7
Hurricanes (H) Rd 9; (A) Rd 3
Crusaders (H) Rd 8; (A) Rd 1
Highlanders (H) Rd 3; (A) Rd 9
Moana Pasifika (H) Rd 4; (A) Rd 6
Blues (H) Rd 1; (A) Rd 7
Hurricanes (H) Rd 6; (A) Rd 4
Chiefs (H) Rd 9; (A) Rd 2