Sat, Mar 23, 2019 - Page 16 News List

Japan’s Sunwolves to be axed from Super Rugby


Japan’s Sunwolves are to be axed from Super Rugby after next season, the governing body said yesterday, dealing a heavy blow to Asian rugby union just six months before Japan hosts the continent’s first Rugby World Cup.

The Sunwolves were introduced in 2016 to bring rugby union to new markets, but South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby (SANZAAR) said it was not prepared to bankroll the perennial wooden-spooners after the Japan Rugby Football Union withdrew financial support.

However, the union denied pulling funding for the team, saying instead that it had been unable to agree terms with SANZAAR.

After the Sunwolves’ departure, the southern hemisphere competition is to return to 14 teams and a round-robin format from 2021, scrapping the unpopular conference system.

SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos said the Sunwolves decision was “not taken lightly” and held open the possibility of a Super Rugby Asia-Pacific competition also involving Pacific nations, the Americas and Hong Kong.

“SANZAAR was advised by the Japan Rugby Football Union in early March that they would no longer be in a position to financially underwrite the Sunwolves’ future participation post-2020,” he said in a statement.

Sunwolves chief executive Yuji Watase said that he had feared for the team since Super Rugby’s ambitious expansion to 18 sides was reversed last season.

“We always knew we needed to be competitive and win more games. Ever since Super Rugby went from 18 to 15 teams we were concerned about our future,” Watase told reporters in Tokyo. “When you see videos of a kid crying with joy because the Sunwolves won a game it’s just such a shame and I feel so sorry.”

Reports say much of the opposition to Asia’s first Super Rugby side came from South Africa, whose teams disliked the long trips to Tokyo and Singapore for the Sunwolves’ home games.

Kyodo news agency said SANZAAR had told the Sunwolves to pay a “non-negotiable” participation fee of about ¥1 billion (US$9 million) a year to stay in Super Rugby.

The Tokyo-based team were introduced with great fanfare along with Argentina’s Jaguares in 2016 as Super Rugby, seeking new audiences, expanded to 18 teams.

Both teams survived the cull when the tournament shrank back to 15 sides last year, after the sprawling, time zone-hopping new format proved unwieldy for teams and fans.

However, results were slow in coming for the Sunwolves, who were embarrassed 92-17 by the Cheetahs in their first season and lost 94-7 to the Lions in 2017.

They won away for the first time earlier this month, beating the Waikato Chiefs 30-15 for just their seventh victory in 51 games.

In yesterday’s only match, the Blues edged the Highlanders 33-26.

Additional reporting by staff writer

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