Chiefs face tough 2014 season opener
October 8, 2013
Chiefs celebrate after their back-to-back championship last season and begin next seasons title defence against Crusaders © Getty Images
Back-to-back Super Rugby champions the Chiefs kick-start next year's title defence with a blockbuster opener against seven-time champions the Crusaders in Christchurch next February. The Chiefs' first home game of the season follows a week later on March 1 against the Highlanders at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.
The defending champions then take on a challenging early tour, travelling to play the Force in Perth in March before meeting the Bulls in Pretoria a week later and the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in April.
Super Rugby finalists Brumbies will start life without departed coach Jake White with a 2014 season-opening clash against Queensland Reds on February 22. The side will also face cross-conference rivals Hurricanes, Stormers and Blues before the grand final replay against the Chiefs in Canberra in April.
The Brumbies match against the Blues in Canberra marks former NRL star, Benji Marshall's return to Australian shores. Brumbies' fans will also be circling May 10 in their calendars, when Jake White returns to the ACT as the Sharks' director of coaching after departing the national capital halfway through a four-year deal after taking the side to within one win of a title.
The Reds will also have a difficult season-opening with only one home game in the first six rounds. The side will take on the Brumbies, before facing the Waratahs in Sydney and the Cheetahs at Suncorp before heading to South Africa to face the Lions and Sharks.
"We've got tough assignments away to two of our traditional Australian rivals to begin the season, which will provide a challenge and opportunity to start strongly," Reds coach Richard Graham said.
"Four out of our first five games will be on the road, which will give this young group the chance to spend a lot of time together and develop a good understanding of the direction on and off the field."
The newly promoted Lions, South Africa's fifth franchise, host the Blues at Ellis Park in March and the Crusaders at the same venue in April. They travel to New Zealand for matches against the Chiefs in Hamilton and the Highlanders in Dunedin a week later.
Sunday afternoon local derbies will continue in Sydney with the Waratahs taking on the Force in their opening round. The Waratahs don't leave Australia until round seven, when they face the Sharks in Durban in March. Returning star Kurtley Beale is set for grudge matches against the Melbourne Rebels in rounds six and 15, while if Sonny Bill Williams joins the Chiefs as expected, his battle with fellow code-hopper Israel Folau on May 31 will be one to watch.
Super Rugby's first round is on February 15, with matches between the Cheetahs and the Lions in Bloemfontein and the Sharks and Bulls in Durban.
The next two rounds also comprise local match-ups, Sanzar chief executive Greg Peters says. "Local derbies remain the pre-eminent focus of the early rounds, as they have proven to be tremendous drawcards to establish early momentum and start the competition with the tribalism and passion that Super Rugby is renowned for."
The finals series begins in late July, with the eventual champion crowned on August 2.