Japan’s formal entry into an expanded Super Rugby competition in 2016 will provide a shot in the arm for the game across Asia, according to the country’s top rugby official.
After tournament organizers SANZAR formally approved the entry of a team from Tokyo, Japan Rugby Football Union chairman Tatsuzo Yabe said: “It will certainly bring innovation to not only Japan, but also the Asian region as a whole.”
Japan coach Eddie Jones told reporters: “It gives Japan’s top players the opportunity to play consistent top-level rugby, which will hone their skills far greater than playing 10 Test matches a year and Top League. It’s a wonderful opportunity for players to develop.”
Japan’s inclusion, along with that of a franchise from Buenos Aires, was confirmed late on Thursday.
As part of the agreement, the Tokyo-based team is to play three home matches per season in Singapore in a bid to help grow the sport in the region, organizers added.
Japan had been desperate to join the competition, which is to expand to 18 teams for the 2016 season, as they prepare to host the 2019 World Cup, with national coach Eddie Jones saying Asia’s top rugby nation would be “climbing a mountain” without it.
Yabe added: “It is absolutely essential for us to participate in the competition as we move toward a successful Rugby World Cup.”
“We are also convinced that participating in Super Rugby will encourage greater interest in our domestic rugby and it will become a big dream and goal for those who play rugby in Japan — especially younger generations — to compete at this level,” he added.
The inclusion of teams from Japan and Argentina had been floated for some time, despite concern over the extra travel time, before the governing body for Australian, New Zealand and South African rugby rubber-stamped their addition.
“We believe that such a positive development will be a driving force for Japan rugby to move forward on the world stage,” Yabe said.
“We will continue to make every endeavor to be successful at this level as we look toward Super Rugby in 2016, the 2019 Rugby World Cup and beyond,” he said.
The confirmation is the final stage of formalities and paves the way for the two new franchises to start contracting players and staff.
SANZAR said that Japan offered a lucrative new market for rugby’s premier international club competition.
“With a heritage stretching back some 115 years, Japan also offers tremendous infrastructure and an active fan base that we view as pivotal to the ongoing sustainability of the team,” SANZAR chief executive Greg Peters said.
Japan broke into the world’s top 10 earlier this year after a string of 10 successive wins, culminating in victory over Six Nations side Italy.
Jones has targeted a place in the quarter-finals at next year’s World Cup, but Japan have won just once at the sport’s showcase event, beating Zimbabwe in 1991.
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