Super Rugby
Your guide to Super Rugby's pre-season fixtures
ESPN Staff
February 19, 2016
The Blues opened the Tana Umaga era with a huge win over the Rebels © Getty Images

The new-look Super Rugby season is fast approaching with all 18 franchises ramping up preparations ahead of the competition's new era.

The Blues and Highlanders will usher in the 21st season of the world's premier provincial tournament on Friday February 26 before the other 16 teams complete an exciting opening round across the weekend.

But before we arrive at the main event, a series of pre-season trial matches have taken place with fixtures held across Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

While some sides have impressed during the trial period, others have struggled and we have been given our first chance to see Super Rugby's newcomers the Jaguares and Southern Kings.

Read ahead for a round-up of each match.

Stormers 40-15 South Western Districts Eagles (George, January 30)

The Stormers ran in six tries, tries in the first half and four in the second after head coach Robbie Fleck made wholesale changes at half-time as he sought to give game time to as many players as possible against determined opponents. Winger Leolin Zas starred with a hat-trick while rookie full-back Khanyo Ngcukana and Super Rugby regulars Kurt Coleman and Nizaam Carr also scored. Stormers coach Robbie Fleck "was very pleased with the performance" describing it as "a step in the right direction" as "the goals we set ourselves we achieved in terms of a good ball-in-hand approach and conditioning wise ... but there is still lots to work on and we are still evolving and improving as a team".

Western Force 28-0 Hurricanes (Gosford, February 3)

Western Force have scored a convincing 28-0 victory over the Hurricanes in a Super Rugby trial at Central Coast Stadium in Gosford. It took the Force only five minutes to get on the board through Adam Coleman, after a series of impressive offloads from Steve Mafi and Ian Prior. Coleman crashed over near the posts for the first try to give them a 7-0 lead. With the match being played in 20-minute quarters, the Force went into the sheds at half-time still with a 7-0 lead. In the second half, the Perth franchise had Mafi sent to the bin after repeat offences, followed by young flanker Kane Koteka, leaving them with 13 men on the pitch. When Mafi came back on, he had an immediate impact, scoring off the back of a lineout on the stroke of three-quarter time. The 2015 wooden-spooners then rounded out the victory with tries to Semisi Masirewa and Ammon Matuauto; flanker Chris Alcock playing a key role in both five-pointers.- AAP -

Blues 59-7 Melbourne Rebels (Auckland, February 4)

Blues coach Tana Umaga was naturally delighted with a 59-7 win but also says the Super Rugby pre-season victory over the Melbourne Rebels has to taken with a grain of salt. The Blues scored nine tries - each to a different player - to one against understrength opposition on Thursday in Auckland. "Yes (happy), although we have to take it with a grain of salt," he said, noting the make-up of the Melbourne squad. One positive for Umaga was that he was able to give plenty of his squad a run, including midfield back Rene Ranger, back after a spell in France. It was the six-Test All Black's first outing in 10 months after undergoing neck surgery. Ranger came on after halftime and, with his first touch, made a big bust past two tacklers. He later was among the try-scorers. - AAP -

Toulon 21-29 Sharks (Toulon, February 5)

The Sharks opened their Super Rugby pre-season fixtures with a solid victory over Toulon, scoring five tries to three, but their celebrations were muted by the loss of captain and Springboks playmaker Pat Lambie shortly before half-time with what looked to be a serious shoulder injury. The Sharks led 24-0 lead after 47 minutes at Stade Mayol in Toulon before their hosts, the European Rugby Champions Cup holders captained by Bryan Habana and featuring James O'Connor in the backline, rebounded on the back of their powerful maul with which they scored their three tries. Du Preez twins Jean-Luc and Daniel, 20, each scored a try but the injury to Lambie produced a sour subtext to the headlines. The Sharks captain left the field just before half-time with his arm in a sling.

SWD Eagles 16-22 Southern Kings (George, February 6)

The Southern Kings came from behind to beat the Eagles, having trailed 13-12 at half-time. Kings winger Michael Makashe and full-back Jurgen Visser scored tries, and they were also awarded a penalty try to claim the victory after dominating possession and scrum time. Christo Du Plessis scored a try for the Eagles.

Brumbies 17-21 Waratahs (Wagga Wagga, February 6)

New South Wales Waratahs defeated the Brumbies with a late try in their first pre-season Super Rugby trial after losing stand-in skipper David Dennis to concussionin the opening minutes. Dennis, who led the side in the absence of Michael Hooper, didn't reurn after he was flattened by Nigel Ah Wong Code-hopper Reece Robinson made a flying start on debut for the Waratahs, lending a hand in their first try, scored by inside centre David Horwitz, but Angus Ta'avao scored the game-winner with 90 seconds to go. New recruit Bryce Hegarty also scored and had two conversions. "We showed a bit of resilience there - it was 17-7 at one stage," Dennis said. "To hang in there and come home strong in the second half it was really positive. It's something to build on."

The sides rested the majority of their Wallabies, with the Waratahs featuring only one of their World Cup stars in Will Skelton, but the Brumbies blooded Argentina half-back Tomas Cubelli, while fellow internationals Sam Carter, Ben Alexander, Joe Tomane and first-time acting captain Matt Toomua also got game time. Josh Mann Rea scored for the Brumbies from a rolling maul while Allan Alaalatoa and Jarrad Butler also scored for the hosts. "There's a lot of pleasing things out of that," said Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham. "Our set-piece was superb, we found some really good shape in attack in that first half, we didn't get a lot of ball in the second half, but I thought the effort was mostly there in that second half."

Reds 3-31 Crusaders (Brisbane, February 6)

Queensland Reds showed little indication they would rebound from their disastrous 2015 season when they shipped 25 unanswered points in the second half at Ballymore. George Bridge bagged a brace and Jordan Taufua touched down after the Crusaders had been awarded a penalty try when Reds back Chris Kuridrani tipped away Mitchell Drummond's pass to Bridge, who was waiting on the left wing to touch down. Reds coach Richard Graham said "there was a fair bit of stuff in the first half I was pretty happy with, certainly the way we set up offensively and defensively", while Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder was particularly pleased with his team's defensive performance, which had been a core point of emphasis over the summer. "This was a good start and I'm really pleased with where were at," Blackadder said. "I was not so focused on the result. It was about fitness levels being up, could we make decisions under pressure and whether wed start to see some of the hard work we put in. I think we're on the right track."

Highlanders 38-45 Racing 92 (Hong Kong, February 6)

Racing 92 claimed a high-scoring win at Siu Sai Wan Stadium in Hong Kong, Dan Carter's Top 14 powerhouse defeating the Super Rugby champions with a pushover try three minutes before the siren sounded to end a topsy-turvy encounter. The Highlanders struck first, forcing a penalty try with a dominant scrum 5m from the Racing line, but the French outfit hit back when halfback Xavier Chauveau scored from a quick tap penalty and they then hit the lead when Francois Van Der Merwe touched down after lovely interplay between the locks. The Highlanders led 21-12 lead at half-time, through a brace from full-back Matt Faddes, and they extended their advantage when Richard Buckman scored 13 seconds before Racing scored three tries in 10 minutes to lead 31-26 lead for the Paris-based club. Highlanders No.8 Liam Squire bargied over to square the ledger before Johan Goosen touched down a 65-metre break for Racing. Tei Walden replied for the Highlanders 10 minutes from full-time only for Racing's late pushover secured the win.

Lions 62-17 Valke, Lions 103-0 Leopards (TBC, February 6)

The Lions confirmed their status as one of the team to beats in the South African Group this season with an emphatic afternoon's work against provincial outfits, the Leopards and Valke. The Lions ran out their entire squad across the 103-0 and 62-17 hammerings, with the likes of Warren Whiteley, Marnitz Boshoff and Ross Cronje all getting some valuable time on the pitch. The Lions' travel to Polokwane next week to face the Bulls.

Bulls 10-28 Cheetahs (Zimbabwe, February 6)

The Cheetahs were too strong for the Bulls in Harare on Saturday, defeating the Pretoria outfit 28-10 to get their pre-season campaign off to a solid start. Both sides fielded largely inexperienced outfits but it was the Cheetahs who looked more fluid, skipper Reniel Hugo picking up a brace of tries in the first half to send the Bloemfontein franchise into the break up 14-3. They were then awarded two penalty tries after repeated scrum infringements in the second-half, a fact that will no doubt be of concern to new Bulls coach Nollis Marais. The Bulls' only try came through No.10 Tian Schoeman.

Highlanders 19-19 Crusaders (Waimumu, February 11)

The south island rivals couldn't be separated in an historic trial played in farmer Fred Booth's paddock. Contesting the inaugural Farmlands Cup as part of the Southern Field Days near Waimumu, the Highlanders led throughout the second half until a late Tim Boys try levelled the scores; fly-half Richie Mo'unga had the chance to secure the win but his conversion was wide. The Crusaders had earlier led 7-5 at the break after winger Sione Fifita had cancelled out Highlanders fly-half Tei Walden's 10th minute try. But it was the defending Super Rugby champions who grabbed the momentum after the break with tries to Malakai Fekitoa and Patrick Osborne; the addition of All Blacks No.9 Aaron Smith giving the Highlanders extra spark about the pitch. The Crusaders left it late but answered first through Nemani Nadolo with 10 minutes to play; Boys' five-pointer ensuring neither side would depart overly happy nor all that upset.

Fred Booth's paddock created a wonderful setting for the inaugural Farmlands Cup © Getty Images

Toulouse 17-31 Sharks (Toulouse, February 11)

The Sharks made it two from two on their French tour, backing up their victory over European champions Toulon with a 14-point win over Toulouse. The Durban-based side scored three tries to two, with S'bura Sithole, Garth April and Johan Deysel all crossing while Toulouse's five-pointers came via Alexis Palisson and former Crusaders hooker Cory Flynn. Star off-season recruit Willie le Roux enjoyed a fine game at full-back while skipper Marcell Coetzee, who will link with Ulster after the 2016 Super Rugby season, was his usual dominant self at the breakdown. Fly-half April finished with 21 points in a positive sign for the Sharks given Patrick Lambie's ongoing injury concerns.

Glen Fisiiahi reaches over the line to score a try © Getty Images

Chiefs 17-12 Waratahs (Bay of Plenty, February 12)

The Chiefs scored a try on the siren to defeat the Waratahs in Rotorua, where the teams' respective rugby league converts, Glen Fisiiahi and Reece Robinson, each scored a try. The teams were equally matched throughout, trading scores from Rob Horne and Fisiiahi, who scored from a counter-attack from the Chiefs' own half, before Tawera Kerr-Barlow put the hosts ahead. Reece Robinson then crossed under the posts to score another long-range try. The teams went to half-time at 12-12 and they continued making plenty of breaks in the second stanza only for dropped ball to cruel their hopes. Coaches Dave Rennie and Daryl Gibson rang the changes in the second half, but neither team held the pill long enough to scoren before Lalakai Foketi put Monte Ioane over the stripe right on full-time.

Reds 18-31 Brumbies (Brisbane, February 12)

Queensland Reds woes have continued with a 31-18 trial loss to the Brumbies at Ballymore on Friday night. The Reds looked outgunned across the park and were further hampered through injury, with Liam Gill coming off with a shoulder injury in the opening 15 minutes, and flanker Lolo Fakaosilea departing with a hamstring strain in the second quarter.

The Reds struggled to find points again this week, crossing for just two tries, one after the bell and a second after David Pocock was yellow carded. While the Brumbies looked ruthless and opened their account early with Wallabies captain Stephen Moore crossing from behind a rolling maul.

Brumbies No.8 Ita Vaea and Argentina-recruit Tomas Cubelli both crashed over from close range to make it a solid 19-6 half-time lead. Tevita Kuridrani added another straight after the break and closed out their night with a Robbie Abel, while the Reds hit back with their double through Nick Frisby and winger Eto Nabuli.

Samu Kerevi is taken down by David Pocock © Getty Images

Southern Kings 11-21 Cheetahs (Port Elizabeth, February 12)

The Southern Kings have completed their pre-season trial matches with a 21-11 loss to the Cheetahs in Cape Town on Friday night. Making a fast start, the Kings got on the board within the opening 10 with a penalty, but it was the Cheetahs who crossed the whitewash first with flanker Boom Prinsloo breaking the line. The Kings hit back with a second penalty to get themselves within one-point before the half-time break.

They took the lead early in the second with their first try of the night through centre Shane Gatts, but despite their strong defense they were unable to hold the Cheetahs out with Sergeal Peterson crashing over the line to push the score 14-11. A final try after the bell from captain Francois Venter cemented their win.

Hurricanes 12-40 Blues (Eketahuna, February 13)

An injury ravaged Hurricanes side have been outdone by the Blues in Eketahuna on Saturday. The Hurricanes lost TJ Perenara, Brad Shields, Motu Matu'u, Matt Proctor, Leni Apisai, Willis Halaholo and Ben May throughout the match, and struggled to maintain intensity throughout the match. Meanwhile the Blues looked good with James Parsons crossing for the first try, with Apisai responding for the Hurricanes. The Blues second-half substitutes Steven Luatua, Nic Mayhew, Charlie Faumuina, Melani Nanai and Lolagi Visinia all added five-pointers, while the Hurricanes struggled to produce anything in attack and could only respond with a Julian Savea runaway try.

Western Force 34-26 Asia Pacific Dragons (Perth, February 13)

The Western Force have finished their pre-season on a high with a strong 34-26 win over the Asia Pacific Dragons. The Force came out firing in the first have, blowing the Dragons out of the water, scoring 24-points-to-five before half time. Luke Morahan crashed over for a double, while Angus Cottrell, Matt Hodgson, Dane Haylet-Petty and Solomoni (junior) Rasolea all added five-pointers. But they fell away in the second to allow the Dragons to get in with three second-half tries.

Stormers 29-14 Jaguares (Cape Town, February 13)

The Stormers defeated the Jaguares 29-14 in a morale-boosting final pre-season hitout. The Stormers were on the front foot early dominating possession and territory, with fullback Dilyn Leyds crossing for an early double. The Jaguares got on the board in the second half with Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias dotting down under the posts. The Stormers then added two more tries to their score with Khanyo Ngcukana going down under the poles and JD Schickerling crashing over for their fourth. The Jaguares had the last say with Facundo Isa crashing over for a consolation try.

Bulls 28-24 Lions (Polokwane, February 13)

The Bulls bounced back from an opening trial loss to the Cheetahs with a last-gasp win over the Lions in Polokwane on Saturday. Rising star Jamba Ulengo grabbed the match-winning try in the final play of the game, the winger collecting a pass from Burger Odendaal - himself an earlier try-scorer - to give the Bulls a major boost ahead of their season opener against the Stormers. The Lions had earlier held the upper hand for much of the match, building a 19-7 lead via tries to skipper Warren Whiteley, Ruan Combrinck and Rohan Janse van Rensburg; the Bulls only able to answer through Springboks star Jesse Kriel. But the Pretoria side rallied late and stole the lead after Grant Hattingh and Odendaal touched down, only for the Lions to respond through Combrinck's second. The Bulls wouldn't be denied though, Ulengo securing the win in the shadows of full-time.

Melbourne Rebels 85-0 Samoa A (AAMI Park, February 18)

Melbourne Rebels have rounded off preparations for the Super Rugby season by thrashing Samoa A 85-0 in a trial match at AAMI Park. The home side dominated the match from the outset and scored 13 tries, an early penalty miss from Lester Sefo the lone point-scoring opportunity for the visitors. Winger Reece Hodge scored two tries in the opening half for his new side as the Rebels went ahead 38-0 at the main break. Replacement winger Tom English also crossed twice after half-time. Former All Blacks back-rower Adam Thompson, making his first appearance in Rebels colours, sparked a counter attack from the Rebels' own half, helping half-back Ben Meehan to the line while Jack Debreczeni, Tamati Ellison, Jonah Placid, Mick Snowden and Dom Shipperley also crossed for tries. The Rebels open their season with a local derby against the Force on Saturday week.

Aaron Cruden made a strong return after 10-months on the sideline © Getty Images

Chiefs v Blues (Counties Manukau, February 19)

The Blues have ended their preseason trials with a 24-12 victory over the Chiefs, while Aaron Cruden has declared himself ready for the Super Rugby season after his first start in 10-months since his knee injury last season. Cruden played a hand in the Chiefs opening two tries, with tries to Charlie Ngatai and Seta Tamanivalu securing the side's 12-5 at half-time lead. But the Blues found a second wind in the last-quarter, despite Jerome Kaino's sin-binning for a swinging arm, and held the Chiefs pointless in the second and getting on the board twice with Lolagi Visinia and Matt Duffie crossing the line.

Crusaders v Hurricanes (Blenheim, February 19)

The Hurricanes ended their preseason campaign with a 12-try 74-7 rout of Super Rugby rivals Crusaders. Both sides rested players for the clash at Lansdowne Park in Blenheim, but it was the Crusaders -- shorn of new All Blacks captain Kieran Read, as well as Israel Dagg, Ryan Crotty and Luke Romano -- who struggled. Their opponents flexed their muscles in the first half, building a 27-7 lead at the break, thanks to tries from TJ Perenara, Ardie Savea, Cory Jane, Beauden Barrett and Victor Vito. Johnny McNicholl got Crusaders on the scoreboard, but worse was to follow in the second half. Ngani Laumape, Vito, Julian Savea, Pita Ahki, Blade Thomson, Jane and Jason Woodward all touched down as the points piled up. The Hurricanes' dominance was highlighted by their 11th score as Julian Savea breezed over the try line only to wait to offer a pop pass to teammate Jane.

Highlanders v Waratahs (Queenstown (February 19)

The Highlanders have finished their preseason on a high with a strong 40-35 win over the Waratahs. The Highlanders got the ball rolling early with Lima Sopoaga sending Malakai Fekitoa over the line for his first of three. The Waratahs reciprocated through Michael Hooper. The scoreline continued to see-saw with Sopoaga slotting two penalties before the Tahs got over the line through Jed Holloway and Tatafu Polota-Nau, but the Highlanders got the last say before the break with Fekitoa scoring his second to close the gap 21-20. The Tahs were over again after the break through Bryce Hegarty, before the Highlanders' Ben Smith dotted down. Fekitoa was then in for his hat-trick, but Zac Guildford made sure to get the Tahs ahead again. However, a try to Ben Smith and penalty to Hayden Parker sealed the Highlanders victory.

Lions v Jaguares (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, February 19)

The Jaguares secured a hammering 49-28 victory over the Lions. While the scores were all tied up 7-all after 10-minutes, the Jaguares soon took control of the match to go over for seven tries, including a penalty try. While the Lions were able to crash over for four of their own.

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