From 2021 Japan’s Sunwolves will no longer play in Super Rugby.

This decision was taken by SANZAAR on Friday. Asia’s first team in Super Rugby will no longer feature in the competition after the governing body decided not to financially back the Wolves after the Japan’s rugby board withdrew their financial support.

The axing of the Sunwolves will now see Super Rugby return to 14 teams.

SANZAAR CEO 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,” Marinos said in a statement.

SANZAAR reportedly ask the Sunwolves to pay a participation fee of about $9 millions a year to play Super Rugby.

The axing of the Sunwolves come only six months before Japan host the Rugby World Cup.

“It is clear that this is going to cause quite a lot of damage,” admitted Sunwolves CEO Yuji Watase after a 37-24 defeat by South Africa’s Lions at the weekend.

“It’s obvious we had a responsibility to expand rugby in Asia. We have tried to do that and to an extent I believe we achieved that aim – but in pure economic terms, the reality is not that simple.”

The idea behind bringing in the Sunwolves into Super Rugby was to expand rugby in the Asia  markets.

In some way it did work as the games in Tokyo are always a sell out, but when they play at their other home ground in Singapore, the stadium are almost always empty.

Most of Japan’s top players decided to stay with their Top League teams. This Top League teams have major corporate sponsors like Kobe Steel and Panasonic.

They make it possible to attract the best players in the world, while the Sunwolves have to be satisfied to scramble for Super Rugby reject players.

With a poor winning record and a team that is made up of South Africans, New Zealanders, Fijians, Australians and Georgians, critics started to pile up.

The Japan Rugby Footbal Union has urged fans to support Top Leagues and the national side as they’ve shown great form under coach Jamie Joseph and they expect to have a large turnout at the World Cup.

“We feel like this will be the most impactful Rugby World Cup we’ve ever had,” tournament director Alan Gilpin told AFP in a recent interview.

“We will have taken the sport forward more than we would have done in England or New Zealand or France,” he added, pointing to 4.5 million ticket applications, 70 percent of those from Japan.

“There are a couple of hundred thousand kids playing rugby now in Japan that weren’t there a year ago, let alone five years ago. We are somewhere new, the opportunity is to leave a bigger legacy in this World Cup than we’ve ever done before.”

Asia’s biggest sport is football and to scale rugby will be a massive challenge indeed.


Written by Carl Coertzen

Image Credit: Rugby Pass