Lions tour means earlier start for Super teams

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 31/08/2012

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Sanzar are preparing to stage an exclusive Super Rugby round for Australian teams ahead of next year's British and Irish Lions tour.

Because the Lions will play nine matches in Australia between June 5 and July 6, Sanzar are expected to start the competition a week earlier so two Australian derby matches can be played.

This will allow the Australians to break early ahead of the test window and grab an extra week's preparation for their three-test series.

The disruption for the 10 New Zealand and South African teams should be minimal.

"We are looking to start that Australian conference a week earlier which, in actual fact, means two games between their sides," Sanzar boss Greg Peters said yesterday.

"It's not an ideal situation but it's a compromise that all three Sanzar countries and Sanzar have come to because it's such an important tour."

A preliminary draw has been issued to franchises and broadcasters but has yet to be officially confirmed.

The disruption for the Crusaders and the remaining four New Zealand teams should not be major, and their opening matches are likely to be in late February.

The Lions will play all five Australian franchises and a combined mid-week team in addition to the tests.

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans recently called for Australia to have a five-week mid-season break for the test series.

Anything shorter, he warned, would be a "recipe for disaster". His comment reflects the Wallabies' lack of preparation before their 9-6 shock loss to Scotland in early June.

The Wallabies' first test against the Lions will be in Brisbane on June 22.

"He's [Deans] going to get a window - bearing in mind the Australian franchise teams are also playing the Lions, so it is a complex draw compared to a normal year," Peters said.

The Super competition was halted for three weeks this season, for the first time in its history, to allow Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to play June test matches. Regular season games were suspended between June 2 and June 29.

The All Blacks and Springboks will play domestic tests against opposition yet to be confirmed.

Peters added that the competition structure would not be amended for next season.

Despite dissatisfaction with the unconventional draw, which means not all teams face each other, it will not be stretched.

"The issue is there are simply not enough weeks in the year with the conference structure and the desire to start the competition earlier is certainly not strong in any territory, especially not in New Zealand," Peters said.

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There will also be no change to the conference system.

It created angst this year when the Queensland Reds, who topped the Australian section, gained a home play-off despite finishing sixth on the ladder.

- Canterbury

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