Kings make Super Rugby debut at home
THE Southern Kings could not have asked for a friendlier introduction to Super rugby.
When the fixtures for 2013 were announced yesterday, it was revealed that the Kings will host the Western Force in their debut match.
The newly promoted franchise, controversially included at the expense of the Lions, only start to play in week two of the competition, as do the rest of the South African and New Zealand teams.
The Kings then have a bye in week three before their first local derby - against the Sharks - in week four.
The fixtures were announced by Sanzar yesterday in a new-look draw, which features a staggered start and a staggered resumption after the June internationals, to accommodate the British & Irish Lions' tour of Australia.
In week one, only Australian teams play and the series ends one week later, after resuming two weeks later in July - following the international window - to accommodate an extended Lions' schedule.
But for the Kings and the fans in the Eastern Cape, it will be the first time, since the Sharks played home games in Port Elizabeth and East London in 1999, that Super rugby returns to the area. This time fans have a home team to support.
The Kings' schedule gets a lot more difficult after that, when they host defending champions the Chiefs in week five, before heading for Australasia to play the Crusaders, Hurricanes, Brumbies and Rebels.
They return home to face the Bulls at home on April 20 and the Cheetahs away, one week later. Two home games against the Waratahs and Highlanders follow before their second bye in round 14.
The Kings don't meet the Reds or the Blues in their first year in the competition.
Other key games in week two on February 23 pit last season's finalists, the Sharks, against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. The season opens in South Africa with the north-south derby at Loftus Versfeld, where the Bulls host the Stormers.
"The Lions tour to Australia presented unique challenges in preparing the 2013 Super rugby draw," said Sanzar chief executive Greg Peters.
"We are very appreciative of the cooperation we received from national unions and broadcasters in working out the draw and other issues."
The Super 15 play-offs start on Friday, July 19, with the qualifiers scheduled for that weekend. The semifinals are on the weekend of July 26, and the final on Saturday, August 3.