It's official – Japan's flagship side will cease to play as the competition contracts to 14 teams.
Sunwolves axed from Super Rugby after 2020 season
The grim reality has finally been confirmed: the Sunwolves will be jettisoned from Super Rugby following the 2020 season. Just one year after the Rugby World Cup in Japan, the nation’s lone Super Rugby side will be gone.
Super Rugby will revert back to a 14-team league – as they had it between 2005 and 2010 – in a round-robin format.
The Sunwolves were founded in 2015 ahead of the competition’s ill-fated expansion to 18 sides in 2016. Since then, Super Rugby was chopped down to 15 sides, retaining the regional conference system that has displeased so many fans. This move brings back the more traditional model.
Since rumours began about the demise of the Sunwolves, many have lamented the impact it may have in the aftermath of the World Cup, in a region with so much potential. According to reports in Japan, the writing was on the wall as Japanese authorities and Super Rugby chiefs failed to agree on financial terms going forward.
Related: Crusaders to consider name change
A recent statement from the JRFU read: “An agreement for a new contract after 2021 could not be reached due to the newly proposed financial conditions, which was difficult to agree on.”
They went on: “According to the proposed financial conditions, the Japan Super Rugby Association and the JRFU shall provide a substantial amount of additional funding, which has posed a concern about not only huge impacts that would be suffered by the future operation of both JSRA and JRFU, but also obstacles caused to the whole activity of Japanese rugby.”
Rich Freeman of Kyodo News has offered more on this, writing: “A source has confirmed that tournament organizers SANZAAR demanded the Japanese team pay 1 billion yen (around $9 million) per year in participation and other fees, something no other franchises have been asked to pay.”
Related: Does South Africa hold the key to rugby’s future?
Giving the competition’s side, SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said: “SANZAAR was advised by the JRFU in early March that they would no longer be in a position to financially underwrite the Sunwolves’ future participation post 2020. The future of the Sunwolves will now be determined by the JRFU which has determined that Super Rugby no longer remains the best pathway for the development of players for the national team.”
The moves mean that the Sunwolves will play out the rest of this season and the entirety of the next, fully aware that their fate is sealed.
Sunwolves face the Lions in Singapore on Saturday.