There has been a comprehensive rescheduling of the Super 14 fixtures compared to the preliminary fixtures of six weeks ago, but the bad news for South African sides is that they again will be at a disadvantage compared to their Australasian counterparts.
One of the noteworthy changes is that the finalists in 2007, the Sharks and the Bulls, will no longer meet in the first round but will do battle in the very last round of fixtures.
As far as overseas commitments go for the South African sides, the tour from hell in 2009 belongs to the Vodacom Stormers.v To play their five matches overseas, they pass through Australia en route to New Zealand for their first tour match against the Crusaders. Then they return to Australia for matches against the Waratahs and Brumbies before another trans-Tasman trip to play the Hurricanes and Highlanders in New Zealand.
It is no easy task – although the Bulls had negotiated a similar trip last year before winning the Super 14 title. Not that the Bulls will have it all that easy in 2009.
They have five games overseas, the first on March 20 against the Hurricanes in Wellington followed by the Highlanders, Crusaders,Waratahs and Brumbies.
The Cheetahs are the first South African side to play overseas in 2009’s Super 14. They meet the Force on February 20 – the first of five matches on the road with the Reds, Hurricanes, Blues and the Highlanders to follow over the next four weekends.
They are followed by the Sharks who play the Chiefs in Hamilton on February 27. They have another three matches in the Antipodes over the following three weekends.
The Lions’ overseas matches are against the Chiefs, Blues, Reds and Force on four consecutive weekends starting on April 4.
Dates of the derbies between South African franchises are as follows:
February 13: Lions v Cheetahs
February 14: Stormers v Sharks
February 21: Sharks v Lions
February 28: Lions v Bulls
March 7: Bulls v Stormers
March 14: Stormers v Lions