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SANZAAR to axe Sunwolves from Super Rugby after 2020 season

SANZAAR to axe Sunwolves from Super Rugby after 2020 season
March 22, 2019

The Japan-based Sunwolves will be cut from Super Rugby after its 2020 season, with the competition to revert to 14 teams in 2021.

Southern hemisphere rugby union body SANZAAR - operates Super Rugby and The Rugby Championship competitions - announced today that the Sunwolves would be cut from the existing 15-team Super Rugby competition, with the current three-conference system to be scrapped.

Announced in the same year that the Rugby World Cup is being held in Japan, the move raises questions over the state of Super Rugby.

With the Western Force axed last year, and two South African teams re-located to Europe - the Cheetahs and Southern Kings - Super Rugby will now revert to the 14-team format in which it played from 2005 to 2010.

SANZAAR’s move will see the unpopular conference system abandoned with every team to play each other in what will be a round robin competition, with each team to play 13 matches during the home-and-away campaign.

In a statement, Super Rugby's governing body advised "SANZAAR has announced that following a substantial review of Super Rugby over the last 18 months via a strategic planning process, the immediate future of Super Rugby rests with a 14-team, round robin, competition format.

"The revised format will come into operation and kick off in 2021.”

"The Sunwolves from Japan will drop out of the existing 15-team Super Rugby competition at the end of the 2020 season."

The Sunwolves’ introduction in 2016 was part of attempts to expand the game in Asia, which will host its first Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.

However, the team, which also plays matches in Singapore has struggled financially and failed to attract large crowds.

In addition, opposing teams are unhappy at the costs they incur in the travelling to Tokyo and Singapore for the Sunwolves’ home games.

A report in Sydney newspaper The Daily Telegraph advised “all of the participating nations in Super Rugby have been financially propping up the Sunwolves in the hopes of luring more revenue from the untapped Asian market.

“It had been hoped that after two or three seasons, cashed up Japanese companies would back the Sunwolves and make them independently sustainable, but that has not materialized.”

SANZAAR Chief Executive Andy Marinos explained that the decision to cut the Sunwolves was made "to further consolidate the competition format" and "was not taken lightly".

Marinos advised “it has involved some detailed analysis and a thorough review of the current and future rugby landscape, tournament costs, commercial and broadcast considerations and player welfare in line with our strategic plan"Competition integrity, affordability and a competitive playing environment were further key drivers to ensure that an optimal player development pathway remains in place to feed into international rugby.

"Factoring in the above analysis and review, a 14- or 15-team round-robin format was considered, as these models delivered best against the criteria we were seeking, including a format that would see each team playing every other team leading into a finals series."

While the Sunwolves’ record on the pitch is poor, they have gradually improved and enjoyed their first away win when they shocked the Waikato Chiefs 30-15 earlier this month. However, they still sit at the bottom of their conference table.

Commenting on the change in structure, Rugby Australia Chief Executive Raelene Castle admitted there was "concern" Australia's teams would play fewer local derbies, but she said she believed RA would share in "tens of millions of dollars" in savings with the axing of the Sunwolves.

Castle told the ABC "when the JRFU (Japan Rugby Football Union) withdrew their underlying support for the Sunwolves and they couldn't find another way to guarantee that underwrite, it left the SANZAAR partners in an exposed positions financially.

"And we didn't think that was in the best interests of the SANZAAR joint venture partnerships."

SANZAAR Chief Executive Andy Marinos explained that the decision to cut the Sunwolves was made "to further consolidate the competition format" and "was not taken lightly".

Marinos advised “it has involved some detailed analysis and a thorough review of the current and future rugby landscape, tournament costs, commercial and broadcast considerations and player welfare in line with our strategic plan"Competition integrity, affordability and a competitive playing environment were further key drivers to ensure that an optimal player development pathway remains in place to feed into international rugby.

"Factoring in the above analysis and review, a 14- or 15-team round-robin format was considered, as these models delivered best against the criteria we were seeking, including a format that would see each team playing every other team leading into a finals series."

Images: The Sunwolves in Super Rugby action (top and middle, courtesy of Willie Britz) and the Singapore Sport Hub - one of their two home venues (below).

Related Articles

7th February 2019 - 2019 Rugby World Cup approaches sell-out

29th January 2019 - Singapore Sports Hub to begin search for new Chief Executive

11th December 2018 - Japan bans ticket scalping at major sporting events

30th September 2018 - New Rugby World Cup venue a memorial to Japan’s 2011 earthquake

3rd May 2018 - Sanzaar strategic review considers further Super Rugby expansion

9th April 2018 - Rugby Australia impacted by Western Force axeing and declining Test crowds

1st March 2018 - Western Force appoints experienced sports executive Brad Paatsch

22nd February 2018 - Summit to consider fan engagement and stadium development strategies

10th April 2017 - ARU confirms either Western Force or Melbourne Rebels will be cut from Super Rugby

13th December 2016 - Sunwolves look to engage Singapore sport fans in second Super Rugby season

23rd May 2016 - Super Rugby set for 2018 competition overhaul

27th April 2016 - Debutant Sunwolves making progress in expanded Super Rugby season

27th August 2015 - Uncertainty over entry of Japanese club into 2016 Super Rugby competition


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