Defending champions the Chiefs will play the Highlanders twice before the end of March in one of the anomalies of the next Super 15 season.

They suit up for an opening-round duel on February 22 in Dunedin and, a month later, square off again in a series which ends round robin play on July 13 with an August 3 final.

In between those Highlander games, the Chiefs tour South Africa, where they will play the Stormers and then the new Kings side, who coach Alan Solomons announced this week would be captained by Luke Watson in their debut season.

It is a rugged start in contrast to the Crusaders who, like all New Zealand sides, miss round one but then have a second-round bye before they begin away against the Blues.


Tournament arrangements have been tweaked again with the Australian sides starting a week earlier - on February 15 - to accommodate the touring fixtures for the Lions.

"The Lions tour to Australia presented some unique challenges in preparing the 2013 Super rugby draw," Sanzar chief Greg Peters said.

"The emphasis in early rounds is again on local derbies that have again proven to be the most watched and attended matches in 2012."

The Blues and their new coach John Kirwan start away against the Hurricanes then meet the Crusaders and Bulls before their first bye break.

Then they have another sprint for four matches against the Waratahs, Chiefs, Highlanders and Hurricanes before a second breather.

After that it is a slog to the finish broken by the June test window. They will need to be in a strong position then if they want to qualify for the playoffs as they travel to South Africa after that interlude to tangle with the Sharks and Cheetahs before the final home pool match against the Chiefs.

The Blues miss out on playing the Kings and do not play the Force in the Australian conference.