WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The absence of June test matches because of next year's World Cup in Japan will see the 2019 Super Rugby season run uninterrupted for 21 weeks between February and July.
The draw for the 2019 season, released on Tuesday by organizer Sanzaar, has the tournament beginning on Friday, Feb. 15 and ending on Saturday, July 6. The 15-team, three conference format will remain unchanged in 2019 with each team playing 16 regular season matches, including eight home and away games within its own conference.
The regular season will comprise a total of 120 matches and will be followed by a seven-match, eight-team finals series. The playoffs are also unchanged with each of the three conference winners hosting a quarterfinal.
The team with the most tournament points that is not a conference winner will host the fourth quarterfinal. That team will be joined in the quarterfinals by four wildcard teams, based on tournament points.
Super Rugby in recent seasons has stretched from February to August and has included a month-long break for test matches in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and, more recently, Argentina and Japan.
The break, which takes place only two to three weeks before the end of the regular season, has been largely unpopular with fans because it is seen to stall the momentum of the tournament at a crucial stage.
The 2019 season will begin with a New Zealand conference match between the Chiefs and Highlanders. All teams will play in the first round apart from the Queensland Reds, who have the first bye of the season. All teams will have two byes during the regular season.