Reds hit the road for Super Rugby
THE Queensland Reds have been dealt a nightmare draw on the road to open next season before they enjoy a rush of new family-friendly timeslots at Suncorp Stadium.
The Reds will open with three games away from home in Canberra, Johannesburg and Buenos Aires for the first time since Super Rugby went professional in 1996.
This year's breakthrough win against the Sharks in Durban and the gutsy 2018 success over the Jaguares at their stronghold in Buenos Aires has given Reds coach Brad Thorn confidence his team can make the most of the draw.
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"It's a positive for us to get our long-haul travel out of the way early when we've got a fit squad," Thorn said.
"We look forward to every challenge that awaits us in 2020."
Quickly finding a "road warriors" identity will be vital with new signings James O'Connor and Henry Speight on board plus the raft of players re-signed on long-term deals.
A dozen players have re-signed for 2020, including Taniela Tupou, Angus Blyth, Tate McDermott, Fraser McReight and Harry Wilson, who have all signed four-year contract extensions through 2023.
The Brumbies (1-2) and Stormers (0-3) both missed the finals last year as the most recent teams to be taxed by three-game openings away from home, where wins are hardest to come by.
Should the Reds grab even one win from their opening three games, it will springboard the improvers into a potential stretch of real momentum where four of their next five games are at Suncorp Stadium.
Each of those four home games will have a new 6.15pm kick-off time, 15 minutes earlier than this season to synch with TV scheduling of matches in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and New Zealand, where daylight saving operates.
The Reds' 2020 draw also has this snapshot of positive features - home turf advantage against five of this year's eight finalists, and crowd-pulling visits from NZ by the Hurricanes and Highlanders.
Ruling body SANZAAR has listened by reintroducing a significant ANZAC Round, with the Reds meeting the Highlanders on a Sunday afternoon (April 26), two days after the Melbourne Rebels host the Auckland-based Blues on April 24.
Significantly, the season starts two weeks earlier than normal in high summer for the Reds on January 31 because Super Rugby is finally running uninterrupted by June Test blocks.
"The 2020 season will see uninterrupted action from January 31 to July due to the shift of the inbound Test window from June to July," Super Rugby chief executive Andy Marinos said.
"An earlier than usual start has been required to get through the 21-week tournament and provide national teams with a clear week leading into the July Test series.
"With the majority of players benefiting from a longer than usual off-season due to the Rugby World Cup (finishing on November 2), we expect the teams to deliver another compelling tournament across 120 matches."
Should the Reds win their way into finals for the first time since 2013, they will have to nail some big scalps in the run home, with the NSW Waratahs (May 16) and the Hurricanes (May 22) both visiting Suncorp Stadium late in the season.
QUEENSLAND REDS 2020 SUPER RUGBY DRAW
Round 1 v Brumbies, Canberra, 6.15pm (Fri, January 31)
Round 2 v Lions, Johannesburg, 11.05pm (Sat, February 8)
Round 3 v Jaguares, Buenos Aires, 7.40am (Sun, February 16)
Round 4 v Sunwolves, Suncorp Stadium, 6.15pm (Sat, February 22)
Round 5 v Sharks, Suncorp Stadium, 6.15pm (Sat, February 29)
Round 6 v Crusaders, Christchurch, 4.05pm (Fri, March 6)
Round 7 v Bulls, Suncorp Stadium, 6.15pm (Sat, March 14)
Round 8 v Bye
Round 9 v Brumbies, Suncorp Stadium, 6.15pm (Fri, March 27)
Round 10 v Sunwolves, Tokyo, 3.15pm (Sun, April 5)
Round 11 v Rebels, Suncorp Stadium 7.15pm (Sat, April 11)
Round 12 v Waratahs, Sydney, 7.15pm (Sat, April 18)
Round 13 v Highlanders, Suncorp Stadium, 4.05pm (Sun, April 26)
Round 14 v Bye
Round 15 v Blues, Auckland, 5.05pm (Sat, May 9)
Round 16 v Waratahs, Suncorp Stadium, 7.15pm (Sat, May 16)
Round 17 v Hurricanes, Suncorp Stadium, 7.15pm (Fri, May 22)
Round 18 v Rebels, Melbourne, 7.15pm (Sat, May 30)