Last season's ITM Cup Championship winners Counties Manukau will open the 2013 ITM Cup competition against the Wellington Lions when the new season gets under way on Thursday 15 August.
Click here to view the 2013 ITM Cup draw.
Click here to view the 2013 ITM Cup competition structure.
The match - at Pukekohe's ECOLight Stadium - is the very first of seven matches in Week One of the nine-week 2013 season draw released by New Zealand Rugby today. New Zealand Rugby General Manager Professional Rugby Neil Sorensen said the opening round had everything from derby matches to a Ranfurly Shield challenge.
The first week of competition will see the 2012 ITM Cup Premiership Champions Canterbury take on Taranaki while the Hawke's Bay Magpies host provincial neighbours the Manawatu Turbos as they play for the Kel Tremain Memorial trophy.
In the South Island, the Southland Stags host the Tasman Makos, and the season's first Ranfurly Shield challenge will see the Northland Taniwha have the first tilt at wrestling 'the Log o' Wood' off the summer guardians, the Waikato Mooloos.
The first week's action closes out with the traditional Battle of the Bridge between Auckland and North Harbour with the two Auckland based teams playing for the Brian Purdy Memorial Trophy and the Newstalk ZB Trans Harbour Trophy followed by Otago taking on Bay of Plenty in Dunedin.
"We have largely retained the competition format of the last few years, although matches will be played from Wednesday to Sunday for most of the competition," said Sorensen. "Every team will play a double header (two games in the same week) once during the season."
"As always, provincial rugby looks set to be a lot of fun, and this draw is bound to draw out the best in provincial pride and colours," he said.
If Waikato retain their hold on the Shield they will face challenges from Northland (Week 1), Otago (Week 2), Auckland (Week 5), Wellington (Week 7) and the ultimate derby match against Taranaki, the team that handed the Shield to Waikato, in Week 9.
But Waikato will first have to win their traditional pre-season challenges against Heartland Unions with Horowhenua Kapiti getting first crack on 17 July in Morrinsville, followed by Meads Cup champions East Coast, at Ruatoria’s Whakarua Park, the scene of jubilant celebrations after their historic Meads Cup win over Wanganui last year.
Week 4 sees a celebration of grass roots rugby with Manawatu hosting the New Zealand Secondary Schools Girls 1st XV Rugby Final which will be played as a curtain raiser to the Turbos’ match against North Harbour on Sunday 8 September at FMG Stadium in Palmerston North.
The ITM Cup Championship Final - the promotion and relegation decider - will be played on Friday 25 October. The ITM Cup Premiership Final will be played on Saturday 26 October, immediately after the 2013 Women’s Provincial Championship Final.