This weekend sees a temporary regular season break for 2012 Super Rugby, the first time in the tournament’s 17-year history that the campaign has been interrupted before a champion has been crowned.
The June Internationals take place over the next three weeks, with the
All Blacks, Springboks, Pumas and Wallabies entertaining Northern Hemisphere opposition in a new test window that hails a return to ‘traditional tours’ for the first time in the professional era.
No less than 100 Super Rugby players will be in action for their respective test sides over this time, a fitting number considering that precisely 100 Super Rugby matches have been played this season so far.
The All Blacks final 30-man squad features 10 Crusaders, six Highlanders, five Chiefs, five Blues and four Hurricanes representatives.
The Springboks 32-man squad boasts 13 Bulls, 11 Sharks, three Western Province players, and two players from both the Golden Lions and Cheetahs.
The Wallabies 39-man training squad has 11 players from the defending Super Rugby champions, 11 NSW Waratahs, eight Brumbies, five Melbourne Rebels and four Western Force players.
The remainder of the players and teams have differing schedules over this time, with the bulk of the Super Rugby franchises taking the time to reassess and rest tired bodies.
In Australia, a series of matches over the June International window have been planned by the Brumbies, Reds and Western Force to keep fit throughout the three-week break.
The Brumbies will play Six Nations Grand Slam champions Wales at Canberra Stadium on June 12, the Reds will play the Hurricanes at Stockland Stadium in the Sunshine coast on June 15, while the Force will play a South Australian invitational side on June 22 at Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide.
In New Zealand, the North versus South fixture has been revived (for the first time since 1995), and will feature former All Blacks captain Graham Mourie and former Highlanders coach Tony Gilbert coach the North and South Island teams respectively.
Featuring Super Rugby players not in the All Blacks squad, the match will be played at Forsyth Barr Stadium on June 10.
Ireland, who will play the All Blacks in a three-test series, will not play any midweek matches or fixtures against Super Rugby franchises.
In South Africa, the eyes of the world turn to the International Rugby Board Junior World Cup, running from June 4 to June 22.
The touring English will play two South Africa Barbarians teams featuring a host of Super Rugby, Sevens and provincial players, with the South Baa-Baas playing at Kimberly on June 13, while the North Baa-Baas play at Potchefstroom on June 19.
During this time Sanzar will feature content throughout the three-week break, with ‘mid-season’ reviews of each franchise, as well as analysis on the All Blacks, Springboks, Pumas and Wallabies with relevance to their next chapter of international competition – The Rugby Championship.
With the release of all venues and timings last week for the new tournament which will replace the Tri-Nations, the 2012 and maiden edition of The Rugby Championship will kick off on August 18 and conclude on October 6.
The June Internationals should serve as an intriguing ‘warm-up’ to the main event.
On June 29, 2012 Super Rugby will resume, kicking off with Week Sixteen, and a frantic three round end to the regular season.
The Highlanders will host the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium, while later in the evening the Rebels host the champions at AAMI Park – in a six-match round that features only local derbies.
The Crusaders (v Hurricanes), Force (v Brumbies), Stormers (v Lions) and Bulls (v Cheetahs) round out the proceedings on June 30.
The Blues, Sharks and Waratahs will take byes over this weekend.
Sanzar will announce the referee appointments the week before action resumes.
Week Eighteen will be played on July 13 and July 14 – before the Super Rugby Final’s Series begins on July 20 with the Super Rugby Qualifiers.