World Cup looms over New Zealand Super Rugby season

Pauliasi Manu of the Chiefs runs the ball during the Super Rugby trial match between the Waratahs and Chiefs at Campbelltown Sports Stadium on February 6, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Getty)

New Zealand's World Cup defence looms large over a Super Rugby season which will serve as a domestic swansong for a gilded generation of All Blacks hoping to defend the Webb Ellis trophy in England.

All five New Zealand franchises have been asked to juggle their resources so the All Blacks are not overworked or worse, injured, and each international will miss at least two rounds.

Others, like number eight Kieran Read and hooker Keven Mealamu, have exercised clauses in their contracts that allow them an extended break from 2014 and will not return until at least the fourth round.

"We need to find the time to give them those two weeks off," Auckland Blues coach John Kirwan told Fairfax Media last month.

"That will be a challenge but our coaching staff will look at the season and particular games. It will put a huge emphasis on the whole squad."

The need to test the depths of Super Rugby squads will undoubtedly allow New Zealand's rugby-mad public to witness the start of a generational shift.

Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith have already said this year will be their last in New Zealand rugby, while Richie McCaw, Mealamu and prop Tony Woodcock look likely to retire after the World Cup.

The departure of several players who have been at the heart of All Blacks success for much of the last decade is likely to increase the pressure on Todd Blackadder to bring Canterbury Crusaders their eighth title.

The Crusaders came within a minute of winning their first title since 2008 with the 33-32 loss to the New South Wales Waratahs in last year's final and are again New Zealand's frontrunners for the title.

The return of code-hopping centre Sonny Bill Williams to the Waikato Chiefs is only part of a good off-season of recruitment for the 2012 and 2013 champions.

Barnstorming centre Seta Tamanivalu and former All Blacks winger Hosea Gear will add some line-breaking bulk to a small back division and they should improve on their fifth-placed finish last year.

With the return to Wellington of Nonu, the Hurricanes undoubtedly have the best backline in New Zealand and should be in playoff contention under new coach Chris Boyd.

Blues coach Kirwan is also under pressure to get results from his talent-laden squad, while the Otago Highlanders will be hard-pushed to repeat last year's sixth-placed finish.  

Super Rugby 2015 fixtures (kickoff times GMT):

Round 1

Feb 13 


Canterbury Crusaders v Melbourne Rebels, Christchurch (0635)        

ACT Brumbies v Queesland Reds, Canberra (0840)
        
Lions v Wellington Hurricanes, Johannesburg (1510)

Feb 14 


Auckland Blues v Waikato Chiefs, Auckland (0635)        

Sharks v Cheetahs, Durban (1505)        

Bulls v Stormers, Pretoria (1710)

Feb 15 

NSW Waratahs v Western Force (0505) 

Bye: Otago Highlanders    

Round 2

Feb 20 


Waikato Chiefs v ACT Brumbies, New Plymouth (0635) 
       
Melbourne Rebels v NSW Waratahs, Melbourne (0840)        

Bulls v Wellington Hurricanes, Pretoria (1710)

Feb 21 


Otago Highlanders v Canterbury Crusaders, Dunedin (0635)

Stormers v Auckland Blues, Cape Town (1305)

Sharks v Lions, Durban (1710)  

Bye: Cheetahs   

Round 3

Feb 27 


Otago Highlanders v Queensland Reds, Dunedin (0635)   
     
Western Force v Wellington Hurricanes, Perth (1100)        

Cheetahs v Auckland Blues, Bloemfontein (1710)

Feb 28 

Waikato Chiefs v Canterbury Crusaders, Hamilton (0635)            

Melbourne Rebels v ACT Brumbies, Melbourne (0840)   
     
Bulls v Sharks, Pretoria, (1505)        

Lions v Stormers, Johannesburg (1710)  

Bye: Waratahs    

Round 4

Mar 6  


Waikato Chiefs v Otago Highlanders, Hamilton (0635)   
     
ACT Brumbies v Western Force, Canberra (0840)

Mar 7  

Auckland Blues v Lions, Auckland (0635)        

Queensland Reds v NSW Waratahs, Brisbane (0840)  
      
Cheetahs v Bulls, Bloemfontein (1505)        

Stormers v Sharks, Cape Town (1710)  

Bye: Crusaders, Hurricanes, Rebels    

Round 5

Mar 13 


Wellington Hurricanes v Auckland Blues, Wellington (0635)  
      
Western Force v Melbourne Rebels, Perth (1100)

Mar 14 

Canterbury Crusaders v Lions, Christchurch (0330)    
    
Otago Highlanders v NSW Waratahs, Dunedin (0635) 
       
Queensland Reds v ACT Brumbies (0840)        

Stormers v Waikato Chiefs, Cape Town (1300)  
      
Cheetahs v Sharks, Bloemfontein (1505)  

Bye: Bulls    

Round 6

Mar 20 


Otago Highlanders v Wellington Hurricanes, Dunedin (0635)  

Melbourne Rebels v Lions, Melbourne (0840)

Mar 21 

Canterbury Crusaders v Cheetahs, Christchurch (0635)       

Bulls v Western Force, Pretoria (1505)        

Sharks v Waikato Chiefs, Durban (1710)

Mar 22 


NSW Waraths v ACT Brumbies, Sydney (0505)  

Bye: Blues, Reds, Stormers    

Round 7

Mar 27 


Wellington Hurricanes v Melbourne Rebels, Wellington (0635)     
   
Queensland Reds v Lions, Brisbane (0900)

Mar 28 

Waikato Chiefs v Cheetahs, Hamilton (0330)        

Otago Highlanders v Stormers, Dunedin (0635)        

NSW Waratahs v Auckland Blues, Sydney (0840)        

Sharks v Western Force, Durban (1505)        

Bulls v Canterbury Crusaders, Pretoria (1710)  

Bye: Brumbies    

Round 8

April 3 


Wellington Hurricanes v Stormers, TBC (0735)  
       
Melbourne Rebels v Queensland Reds, Melbourne (0940)

April 4  

Waikato Chiefs v Auckland Blues, Hamilton (0735)     
     
ACT Brumbies v Cheetahs, Canberra (0940)          

Sharks v Canterbury Crusaders, Durban (1400)  
        
Lions v Bulls, Johannesburg (1505)  

Bye: Force, Highlanders, Waratahs    

Round 9

April 10 


Auckland Blues v ACT Brumbies, Auckland (0735)

April 11 

Canterbury Crusaders v Otago Highlanders, Christchurch (0735)          

NSW Waratahs v Stormers, Sydney (0940)          

Western Force v Cheetahs, Perth (1145)          

Bulls v Queensland Reds, Pretoria (1300)          

Lions v sharks, Johannesburg (1505)  

Bye: Chiefs, Hurricanes, Rebels    

Round 10

April 17 


Canterbury Crusaders v Waikato Chiefs, Christchurch (0735)

April 18 

Wellington Hurricanes v NSW Waratahs, TBC (0430)
          
Otago Highlanders v Auckland Blues, Dunedin (0735)  
        
ACT Brumbies v Melbourne Rebels (0940)          

Western Force v Stormers, Perth (1145)          

Sharks v Bulls, Durban (1505)          

Cheetahs v Queensland Reds, Bloemfontein (1710)  

Bye: Lions    

Round 11

April 24 


Waikato Chiefs v Western Force, Hamilton (0735)    
      
ACT Brumbies v Otago Highlanders, Canberra (0940)

April 25 


Canterbury Crusaders v Auckland Blues, Christchurch (0735)
          
NSW Waratahs v Melbourne Rebels, Sydney (0940)

Lions v Cheetahs, Johannesburg (1505)          

Stormers v Bulls, Cape Town (1710)

April 26 


Queensland Reds v Wellington Hurricanes, Brisbane (0605)  
Bye: Sharks    

Round 12

May 1 


Otago Highlanders v Sharks, Dunedin  (0735)       

ACT Brumbies v NSW Waratahs, Canberra (0940)

May 2 

Auckland Blues v Western Force, Auckland (0530)      
 
Wellington Hurricanes v Canterbury Crusaders, Wellington(0735)       

Melbourne Rebels v Waikato Chiefs, Melbourne (0940)      
 
Cheetahs v Stormers, Bloemfontein (1505)       

Bulls v Lions, Pretoria (1710)  

Bye: Reds       

Round 13

May 8 


Canterbury Crusaders v Queensland Reds, Christchurch (0735)    
   
Melbourne Rebels v Auckland Blues, Melbourne (0940)

May 9 


Wellington Hurricanes v Sharks, TBC (0735)       

Western Force v NSW Waratahs, Perth (0940)       

Lions v Otago Highlanders, Johannesburg (1300)  
     
Stormers v ACT Brumbies, Cape Town (1505)  

Bye: Bulls, Cheetahs, Chiefs    

Round 14

May 15 


Auckland Blues v Bulls, Auckland (0735)        

Queensland Reds v Melbourne Rebels, Brisbane (0940)

May 16 


Wellington Hurricanes v Waikato Chiefs, TBC (0735)  
      
NSW Waratahs v Sharks, Sydney (0940)        

Lions v ACT Brumbies, Johannesburg (1505)        

Cheetahs v Otago Highlanders, Bloemfontein (1710)  

Bye: Crusaders, Force, Stormers    

Round 15

May 22 


Waikato Chiefs v Bulls, Rotorua (0735)        

Queensland Reds v Sharks, Brisbane (0940)

May 23 

Auckland Blues v Wellington Hurricanes, Auckland (0735)  
      
NSW Waratahs v Canterbury Crusaders, Sydney (0940)        

Western Force v Otago Highlanders, Perth (1145)        

Cheetahs v Lions, Bloemfontein (1505)        

Stormers v Melbourne Rebels, Cape Town (1710)  

Bye: Brumbies    

Round 16

May 29 


Canterbury Crusaders v Wellington Hurricanes, TBC (0735)  
      
ACT Brumbies v Bulls, Canberra (0940)        

Sharks v Melbourne Rebels, Durban (1710)

May 30 

Otago Highlanders v Waikato Chiefs, TBC (0735)     
   
Western Force v Queensland Reds, Perth (0940)        

Stormers v Cheetahs, Cape Town (1505)        

Lions v NSW Waratahs, Johannesburg (1710)  

Bye: Blues    

Round 17

June 5 


Wellington Hurricanes v Otago Highlanders, TBC (0735)      
  
Western Force v ACT Brumbies, Perth (1100)

June 6 

Melbourne Rebels v Bulls, Melbourne (0530)        

Auckland Blues v Canterbury Crusaders, Auckland (0735)  
      
Queensland Reds v Waikato Chiefs, Brisbane (0940)        

Cheetahs v NSW Waratahs, Bloemfontein (1300)  

Stormers v Lions, Cape Town (1505)  

Bye: Sharks    

Round 18

June 12 


Auckland Blues v Otago Highlanders, TBC (0735)    
     
Melbourne Rebels v Western Force, Melbourne (0940)

June 13 

ACT Brumbies v Canterbury Crusaders, Canberra (0530)       

Waikato Chiefs v Wellington Hurricanes, New Plymouth (0735)

NSW Waratahs v Queensland Reds, Sydney (0940)   
      
Bulls v Cheetahs, Pretoria (1505)         

Sharks v Stormers, Durban (1710)  

Bye: Lions    

Playoffs (home team listed first) 

June 19 & 20 


Qualifier 1 - Team ranked third v team ranked sixth 
Qualifier 2 - Team ranked fourth v team ranked fifth  

Bye: Teams ranked first and second    

Semi finals 

June 26 & 27 

Semi-final 1 - Team 1 v lowest ranked qualifier winner 

Semi-final 2 - Team 2 v highest ranked qualifier winner    

Final 

July 4   Winner of SF 1 v Winner of SF2        
 

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