NZR release Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021 fixtures

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Highlanders will welcome defending champions Crusaders in the opening round of Super Rugby Aotearoa on Feb. 26 after New Zealand Rugby (NZR) announced the schedule for the second edition of the domestic competition on Tuesday.

Hurricanes face Blues the following day and Chiefs host the Highlanders on March 5 after receiving an opening round bye. All 21 games of the competition, including the final on May 8, will be broadcast live.

New Zealand set up Super Rugby Aotearoa this year for its five professional franchises after the broader Super Rugby championship was abandoned because of the COVID-19 crisis.

"We saw how exciting this home and away format was last year, and all five teams now know what's required to compete and win every week," NZR head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum said in a statement.

"With the availability of the All Blacks locked in for round one there are going to be fireworks from the opening whistle. It's fantastic to have some certainty for fans, players and partners after what's been a year of uncertainty."

Hurricanes CEO Avan Lee said teams were encouraged by how the competition was received.

"Super Rugby Aotearoa generated big crowds and fantastic in-ground atmosphere. It's very clear the format was popular with fans and I think that's an extremely positive prospect moving forward into next season," Lee said.

Chiefs CEO Michael Collins said: "Our first game at home is expected to be big one since we had two close matches against the Highlanders ... We're sure supporters will welcome having our All Blacks available for our first match, including captain Sam Cane."

Lendrum said NZR is working with Rugby Australia on a trans-Tasman competition and would announce details soon.

Round 1:

Friday, 26 February, 7:05pm (local time) Highlanders vs. Crusaders, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Saturday, 27 February, 7:05pm (local time) Hurricanes vs. Blues, Sky Stadium, Wellington

BYE: Chiefs

Round 2:

Friday, 5 March, 7:05pm Chiefs vs. Highlanders, FMG Stadium, Waikato, Hamilton

Saturday, 6 March, 7:05pm Crusaders vs. Hurricanes Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch

BYE: Blues

Round 3:

Saturday, 13 March, 7:05pm Crusaders vs. Chiefs, Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch

Sunday, 14 March, 3:35pm (local time) Blues vs. Highlanders, Eden Park, Auckland

BYE: Hurricanes

Round 4:

Saturday, 20 March, 7:05pm Hurricanes vs. Chiefs, Sky Stadium, Wellington

Sunday, 21 March, 3:35pm Blues vs. Crusaders, Eden Park, Auckland

BYE: Highlanders

Round 5:

Friday, 26 March, 7:05pm Highlanders vs. Hurricanes, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Saturday, 27 March, 7:05pm Chiefs vs. Blues, FMG Stadium, Waikato, Hamilton

BYE: Crusaders

Round 6:

Friday, 2 April, 7:05pm Crusaders vs. Highlanders, Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch

Saturday, 3 April, 7:05pm Blues vs. Hurricanes, Eden Park, Auckland

BYE: Chiefs

Round 7:

Saturday, 10 April 7:05pm Highlanders vs. Chiefs, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Sunday, 11 April, 3:35pm Hurricanes vs. Crusaders, Sky Stadium, Wellington

BYE: Blues

Round 8:

Friday, 16 April, 7:05pm Highlanders vs. Blues, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Saturday, 17 April, 7:05pm Chiefs vs. Crusaders, FMG Stadium, Waikato, Hamilton

BYE: Hurricanes

Round 9:

Friday, 23 April, 7:05pm Chiefs vs. Hurricanes, FMG Stadium, Waikato, Hamilton

Sunday, 25 April, 3:35pm Crusaders vs. Blues, Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch

BYE: Highlanders

Round 10:

Friday, 30 April, 7:05pm Hurricanes vs. Highlanders, Sky Stadium, Wellington

Saturday, 1 May, 7:05pm Blues vs. Chiefs, Eden Park, Auckland

BYE: Crusaders

Final - Saturday, 8 May