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Rugby: Sunwolves to be culled from Super Rugby after 2020

Rugby: Sunwolves to be culled from Super Rugby after 2020

The Sunwolves' run in Super Rugby is set to end next year, an official source said Wednesday. Multiple reports out of Australia earlier in the day had said the tournament's sanctioning body SANZAAR had decided to return to a 14-team competition in 2021, once its current broadcast agreement ends in 2020. (Sunwolves players after their 31-34 defeat in the Super Rugby match between Sunwolves and Reds at Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground on March 16, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan.)[Getty/Kyodo] No official comment was available from either the Sunwolves or SANZAAR. A Sunwolves spokesman, however, told Kyodo News before the team flew from Tokyo to Singapore for Saturday's game against the Lions from South Africa that "there was a phone hook up with SANZAAR today. Decision will be announced Friday afternoon." SANZAAR later put out a press release saying, "Please be advised that SANZAAR will issue an official statement on the future of the Super Rugby tournament on Friday 22 March at 2 p.m. Sydney local time. SANZAAR and its stakeholders will not be making any comment on Super Rugby until the statement has been released." According to a Japan Rugby Football Union source, SANZAAR had required Japan pay a participation fee of roughly 1 billion yen a year in order for the Sunwolves to compete after 2020 -- something that is not asked of other franchises. "I am very disappointed, but that was non-negotiable," the source said. While the move had been predicted by many, the team had hoped their competitive start to the 2019 season would earn a reprieve. However, it appears the South African influence is such that Australia, New Zealand and Argentina have all caved in. The South African teams have long cited their displeasure with the travel time to Japan and lack of interest in their games, in part due to the time difference. In order to appease the South African sides, the Sunwolves played three "home" games a year in Singapore, but the poor crowds at the Singapore National Stadium are now being used as some as a reason for culling the team. Displeasure at Japan's support for France over South Africa in the bidding war for Rugby World Cup 2023 is also believed to have played a role. With six months to go until the Rugby World Cup opens in Japan, the sport has been thrown into turmoil. The Japan Rugby Football Union recently lost the right to stage a leg of the Women's Sevens World Series and the loss of the Sunwolves means there is little to look forward to -- under the current model -- in terms of international games in Japan, outside three test matches in June. While the JRFU has said it approves the formation of World Rugby's proposed 12-team Nations Championship, the scrapping of the Sunwolves creates some huge logistical issues if that competition ever gets off the ground. Firstly, it would make it very difficult to bridge the gap between the Top League and playing the top nations in the world. And secondly, unless there is massive seasonal shift in the way rugby is organized, Japan's games in the Rugby Championship (against Australia, Argentina, New Zealand and Fiji) in August and September and three tests against touring sides from Europe in July would come off the back of six months of relative inactivity and would simply be preseason games for the domestic league. There would also be issues regarding the November break when Japan are scheduled to travel to Europe to play their three remaining games in the proposed tournament.

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