Draw made for Super Rugby 2018

Tough draw The Waratahs face a month in New Zealand in 2018

South Africa's flag-bearer in Super Rugby, the Lions, have been handed a favourable draw after the fixtures of the revamped competition were released on Thursday.

Delayed by the drawn-out process of axing the Western Force from the Australian Conference, the schedule had been circulating among the 15 teams for final inspection.

Sanzaar yesterday announced the new format and fixtures for the 2018 season, and chief executive Andy Marinos admitted that the tournament "was not working with 18 teams, the structure was confusing, and the outcomes of matches were becoming too predictable".

In the restructured competition, each team will play 16 round-robin matches - including eight inter-conference matches and eight cross-conference matches - so they will play all other teams in their conference twice, and once against four of the teams in the other two conferences (four at home and four away).

This is followed by an away game against theBulls at Loftus Versveld in Pretoria.

"Clearly 18 teams didn't work from day dot, particularly in Australia and South Africa".

The 2018 Super Rugby season will open on February 17 with a match between the Cape Town-based Stormers and Argentina's Jaguares, and with Japan's Sunwolves moving to the Australian conference.

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Their Australasian tour only starts on the weekend on April 21 with two matches scheduled in Australia and two in New Zealand. "It is a key high performance pathway for players from the SANZAAR Unions to transition from club to Test rugby, and this will continue to be the case in the future".

Marinos then put the hard word on teams not playing attractive rugby.

SANZAAR agreed to dump three teams from the competition for next season, with South Africa's Cheetahs and Kings leaving to join the Pro14 competition in Europe.

While Australian sides underperformed in the two seasons of Super Rugby, the Jaguares and Sunwolves have also failed to meet expectations with the Argentine side essentially the country's national team.

"Their performances over the first two seasons have been disappointing and improvement is required", Marinos said.

"A structural reform has been implemented where responsibility for the Sunwolves will move from the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) to the entity known as Japan Super Rugby Association (JSRA). SANZAAR will be taking a more proactive role within its operating structures".

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