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Bulls handed Lions opener

The Bulls will begin the defence of their Super 14 title against the Lions in a revamped 15-team edition next season.

The two franchises, who will meet in Johannesburg on February 18, are joined by the other three South African sides - Sharks, Cheetahs and Stormers - in one of three regional conferences where the teams will play each other on a home-and-away basis.

Australia's four established clubs - Waratahs, Reds, Brumbies and Western Force - will welcome the newest team to the competition, Melbourne Rebels, while the New Zealand pool is made up of the Crusaders, Hurricanes, Blues, Chiefs and Highlanders.

Apart from playing each team in their respective sections twice, teams will also play four of the other five teams in each of the other two conferences on a home-or-away basis.

It makes for a total of 16 games per team, three more than in previous seasons, with the top team joined by the three other highest point scorers in advancing to a six-team finals series.

In total, the number of games increases from 94 to 125, while the competition will last 21 weeks compared to the previous 16, with the final scheduled for July 9.

New SANZAR CEO-designate, Greg Peters, said: "For the first time since its inception in 1996, Super Rugby will take on a whole new look in 2011.

"We believe this competition will deliver even more of what our fans in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are telling us that they love about Super Rugby, including more local derbies, intense cross-conference competition and the expanded final series with the guarantee of a home final for each of the conference winners."

The finals series is designed in a way that the top two teams overall with the most points automatically qualify for the semi-final, with the other four sides involved in a play-off to decide who will meet them.

Peters added: "These changes promise to take Super Rugby to a whole new level. For all of our fans and especially our younger fans, who look forward seeing all of their heroes taking the field in their local colours, 2011 will be a big year in prospect."

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