SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos today confirmed that the Super Rugby referees, under the guidance of Game Manager Lyndon Bray, gathered in Sydney for their annual training camp while the Executive Committee had approved a series of law variations as the countdown continues to kick-off on February 27.
"The 2016 referee squad contains 22 members, of which nine are in line to make their first appearance at this level, including Federico Anselmi and Shuhei Kubo of Argentina and Japan respectively," said Marinos.
The group met at the International College of Management in Manly for a five-day camp that included rigorous physical training, refinement of mental skills and a comprehensive briefing around a number of variations that are set to be introduced for the 2016 season.
"It was an interesting day of events," said Marinos who attended a full day session with the referees along with SANZAAR's Head of Operations, Brendan Morris.
"It was important for me to meet with the men who play a big role in the product that Super Rugby is and to share with them the business and rugby imperatives that we have."
Law variations and game innovations for 2016 will include:
"These law amendments, while subtle in nature, will help Super Rugby's continuing evolution as the best provincial competition in the world," Marinos added.
"The change to the bonus point, which has been widely discussed throughout the past week as one potential innovation, has now been formally approved by the ExCo for the 2016 season.
"By implementing this change, we expect to see more attacking and competitive rugby as teams will be asked to keep their foot down for the full 80 in order to claim the try-scoring bonus point, which we have seen used to great effect in France over the past few years.
"In addition to this, permitting teams to opt for a lineout after time has expired serves to disincentive opponents from infringing and aims to reward sides that are particularly strong set-piece exponents which, when coupled with the previously mentioned changes, encourages more attacking and competitive rugby."
These law variations and game innovations were tabled in October 2015 for SANZAAR's National Unions to consult with and brief their franchises.
"It has not gone unnoticed the number of key stakeholders that have felt the need to publicly criticise SANZAAR for initiatives that were floated months ago and heavily canvassed throughout each National Union," Marinos added.
"We would never impose such fundamental changes to Super Rugby without proper consultation with stakeholders but will nevertheless continue to engage our member unions and franchises and work with all teams to continue striving for Super Rugby's ongoing improvement."
"It was also considered whether to adopt pre-2013 television match official protocol whereby the TMO could only rule on try scoring, in-goal and foul play, however following consultation with World Rugby, where we were informed they would be conducting a TMO review this year, we have decided to retain 'status quo' for 2016 and will participate fully with the review in an effort to ensure that this area of the game gets the focus and attention it deserves."
Also emanating from the recent ExCo meeting was the decision to refer to the organisation as SANZAAR (previously SANZAR) to formally recognise Argentina's participation in the joint venture.
"Their top-four finish at the Rugby World Cup and now full participation in Super Rugby adds further strength and prestige to the existing competition structures. As the top four international teams from RWC 2015 look to further grow and establish Southern Hemisphere as a dominant force in world rugby, we are all very excited to see what lies in store in the coming year," Marinos concluded.
The next chapter of the toughest and most exciting provincial rugby competition on earth begins with a double-header on Friday February 26 as the Highlanders begin their title defence against the Blues in Auckland before the Brumbies host the Hurricanes to cap an enormous opening night involving three of last year's four semi-finalists.
Fans don't have long to wait before the action continues with the Lions travelling to Tokyo for a historic afternoon clash at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium; the first Super Rugby match to be played in Japan.
The Jaguares get their maiden Super Rugby campaign underway in Bloemfontein against the Cheetahs while the Port-Elizabeth-based Kings re-enter the competition with a clash against the Sharks at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Round 1 (all times local, click here for full draw)
Fri 26 Feb: Blues v Highlanders @ Eden Park (19:35)
Fri 26 Feb: Brumbies v Highlanders @ GIO Stadium (19:40)
Fri 26 Feb: Cheetahs v Jaguares @ Free State Stadium (19:00)
Sat 27 Feb: Sunwolves v Lions @ Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium (13:15)
Sat 27 Feb: Crusaders v Chiefs @ AMI Stadium (19:35)
Sat 27 Feb: Waratahs v Reds @ Allianz Stadium (19:40)
Sat 27 Feb: Force v Rebels @ nib Stadium (18:50)
Sat 27 Feb: Kings v Sharks @ Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium (15:00)
Sat 27 Feb: Stormers v Bulls @ DHL Newlands (17:05)
2016 Super Rugby Referees
Federico Anselmi (Argentina - 0 Super Rugby, 7 Tests)*
Nic Berry (Australia - 0 Super Rugby, 0 Tests)*
Stuart Berry (South Africa - 21 Super Rugby, 5 Tests)
Nick Briant (New Zealand - 25 Super Rugby, 2 Tests)
Mike Fraser (New Zealand - 23 Super Rugby, 4 Tests)
Angus Gardner (Australia - 26 Super Rugby, 5 Tests)
Rohan Hoffmann (Australia - 26 Super Rugby, 3 Tests)
William Houston (Australia - 0 Super Rugby, 0 Tests)*
Quinton Immelman (South Africa - 0 Super Rugby, 0 Tests)*
Glen Jackson (New Zealand - 41 Super Rugby, 16 Tests)
Craig Joubert (South Africa - 93 Super Rugby, 64 Tests)
Shuhei Kubo (Japan - 0 Super Rugby, 6 Tests)*
Andrew Lees (Australia - 22 Super Rugby, 2 Tests)
Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand - 0 Super Rugby, 0 Tests)*
Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand - 5 Super Rugby, 0 Tests)
Jaco Peyper (South Africa - 59 Super Rugby, 29 Tests)
Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand - 0 Super Rugby, 0 Tests)*
Chris Pollock (New Zealand - 70 Super Rugby, 22 Tests)
Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa - 0 Super Rugby, 0 Tests)*
Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa - 9 Super Rugby, 1 Test)
Jaco van Heerden (South Africa - 6 Super Rugby, 0 Tests)
Paul Williams (New Zealand - 0 Super Rugby, 0 Tests)*
* Denotes a new squad member in 2016