x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Crusaders to play Chiefs

The Super 14 champions Canterbury Crusaders face a tough opening match against their New Zealand rivals Waikato Chiefs when they begin their defence in February next year.

SYDNEY // The Super 14 champions Canterbury Crusaders face a tough opening match against their New Zealand rivals Waikato Chiefs when they begin their defence in February next year. The Crusaders have dominated the southern hemisphere's top provincial championship for over a decade, winning seven of the last 11 finals. Australia's New South Wales Waratahs, runners-up to the Crusaders this year, also face a torrid opener away to New Zealand's Wellington Hurricanes but are drawn to play seven of their first nine games at home.

Next year's competition kicks off on Feb 13 with blockbuster matches in each of the three participating countries. The action will start in New Zealand's South Island when Otago Highlanders host Australia's two-time champions the ACT Brumbies in Dunedin. Australia's Western Force will entertain New Zealand's Auckland Blues before the competition switches to South Africa for the clash between the Lions and Central Cheetahs in Johannesburg. The Crusaders and Wellington host their games the following day before the opening round finishes in South Africa.

The Western Stormers play the Sharks in Cape Town in a local derby then the 2007 champions the Bulls entertain Australia's Queensland Reds in Pretoria. As with previous seasons, the 14 teams will play each other once over the regular season before the top four teams meet in the semi-finals on May 22 and 23. The final will be played on May 30. * Reuters