Super Rugby draw: Five of the best

Written By Unknown on Senin, 07 Oktober 2013 | 23.40

Kurtley Beale is back for the Waratahs in 2014. Picture: Mark Evans

THE draw for the 2014 Super Rugby season is out - so where and when will Benji Marshall, Kurtley Beale, Quade Cooper and co kick-off their campaigns?

The opening round of the competition - which kicks off on February 15 - is an all-South African affair, with the Cheetahs and Lions opening the new campaign with a clash in Bloemfontein, followed by the Sharks hosting the Bulls (the Stormers start with a bye).

The New Zealand and Australian franchises join in the action the following week, from February 21, with each team playing 16 regular season matches (eight home and eight away, plus 2 byes) before the playoffs begin on July 18. The final will be held on Saturday, August 2.

We take a look at five must-watch matches for the 2014 Super Rugby season.

Crusaders v Chiefs, February 21, AMI Stadium

It might be asking a bit much given it's but we like to think these two sides will be able to replicate their performances from the last time they clashed. That occasion turned out to be the best game of 2013, with the Aaron Cruden-inspired Chiefs edging the Crusaders in an epic semi-final at Waikato Stadium. Adding more spice to this match is the potential return of Sonny Bill Williams to the Chiefs line-up. The dual code star is yet to announce where - and what - he'll be playing next year but Waikato remains a firm possibility. There'll be no Dan Carter for the Crusaders, with the All Blacks superstar set to take a sabbatical that will rule him out of most of the 2014.

Highlanders v Blues, February 22, Forsyth Barr Stadium

Will it be Benji Marshall's rugby union debut? The former Wests Tigers NRL star is poised to kick off his career in the 15-man game in Dunedin - providing he does enough in the pre-season to win selection in the Blues line-up for their opening clash of 2014. Selection in the No.10 jersey would likely see him face off with the Highlanders' 11-Test All Blacks flyhalf Colin Slade. Marshall won't be the only new face in the Blues side, with former All Black Jerome Kaino returning to Auckland after a stint in Japan.

NSW Waratahs v Western Force, February 23, Allianz Stadium

The opening round for the Australian Super Rugby franchises could pit great mates Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor up against each other as the Waratahs host the Force on a Sunday afternoon. That's providing O'Connor ends up signing with the Perth-based club, following the Australian Rugby Union's decision to release the bad boy from his 2013 contract, and not offer him a new one for 2014. Regardless, Beale has returned to NSW from Melbourne and will roll out for the side he started his Super Rugby career with alongside new recruits Jacques Potgieter (Bulls), Jono Lance (Reds) and Nick Phipps (Rebels) as coach Michael Cheika looks to build on the platform laid in 2013.

Queensland Reds v Cheetahs, March 7, Suncorp Stadium

Richard Graham kicks off his career as Queensland Reds coach on the road, with clashes away to the Brumbies and Waratahs in the first two rounds. It's not until Queensland's third game that he'll coach his new side on home soil and this looms as a tough test for the former Western Force boss. South Africa's Cheetahs were the surprise packet of 2013, storming into the playoffs and coming within a sideline conversion of pushing eventual runners-up the Brumbies to extra-time in the opening round of the finals. Attacking ace Willie le Roux has become a star for the Springboks and will lock horns with the Reds' new recruit, former Waratahs and Wallabies winger Lachie Turner in a battle of the speedsters.

Brumbies v Chiefs, April 25, Canberra Stadium

The rematch of this year's Super Rugby final, won by the Chiefs as they successfully defended their 2012 crown. Sonny Bill Williams wouldn't be the only newcomer to this rematch, with one-time Wallaby skipper David Pocock set to be back in action for the Canberra outfit in 2014 after missing most of this year with a serious knee injury. The Brumbies will also have a new face calling the shots on the sidelines, after former World Cup-winning coach Jake White walked out on the club to chase a Test gig. Stephen Larkham and Laurie Fisher are vying for the vacant position.

Opponents for Australia's Super Rugby franchises - each team plays home and away derbies within their own conference, plus the following matches:

Brumbies: Hurricanes (A), Stormers (H), Blues (H), Chiefs (H), Crusaders (A), Sharks (H), Cheetahs (A), Bulls (A)
Force: Highlanders (A), Chiefs (H), Bulls (H), Cheetahs (A), Stormers (A), Lions (H), Crusaders (A), Blues (H)
Rebels: Cheetahs (H), Crusaders (H), Highlanders (A), Chiefs (A), Sharks (H), Hurricanes (H), Lions (A), Bulls (A)
Reds: Cheetahs (H), Sharks (A), Lions (A), Stormers (H), Hurricanes (A), Blues (A), Crusaders (H), Highlanders (H)
Waratahs: Sharks (A), Stormers (A), Bulls (H), Blues (A), Hurricanes (H), Lions (H), Chiefs (A), Highlanders (H)

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