The Sunwolves head into Saturday's game with the Blues at QBE Stadium, north of Auckland, knowing a second consecutive win on New Zealand soil could scupper attempts to have the side culled by next year.
The Daily Telegraph in Australia reported Friday the Japanese franchise may be cut from the competition as early as next season.
(Michael Little during the Super Rugby match between Sunwolves and Waratahs at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Groud on Feb. 23, 2019 in Tokyo.)[Getty Images for SUNWOLVES/Kyodo]
A decision could possibly be made when Super Rugby officials meet in London on Sunday, despite the current broadcast deal and participation agreement including the Tokyo-based team until 2020.
The main drive for their ouster seems to be coming from South Africa, perhaps not incidentally the country Japan voted against in favor of France for the right to host Rugby World Cup in 2023.
Sunwolves management reacted to the report by pointing out the positives the team brings to the competition both on and off the field.
"If you think about rugby in the future you have to broaden the market and you have to utilize Asia," Sunwolves CEO Yuji Watase told Kyodo News.
"The Sunwolves are the door-opener for development in Asia," a point not lost on Rugby Australia, who is firmly behind the Sunwolves' continued participation in Super Rugby.
Watase went on to say the crowds the team gets in Tokyo are "very different and unique" and add so much to the competition, one reason, in addition to the highly attractive rugby the side plays, the Sunwolves have become many rugby fans' "second team."
"SANZAAR needs to keep the Sunwolves and hopefully we are showing that in our performance on and off the field," he said.
Meanwhile, the coaching staff tried to remain focused on the job in hand.
"Representing the Sunwolves, Japan rugby and growing each week is what this team strives for every time we play," said interim head coach Scott Hansen.
(Assistant coach Scott Hansen)[Getty/Kyodo]
"Playing the Blues in another iconic New Zealand rugby venue is another opportunity for our team. The Blues are an explosive team so we will need to continue to believe in our game and build on our performance from last week."
"We have some changes this week due to injury, but that gives other wolves the opportunity, which we know they will accept. Being adaptable is what Super Rugby is all about, we are excited and look forward to this big challenge."
That performance last week saw them beat two-time champions the Chiefs 30-15. Captain Michael Little, who grew up watching his former All Black father Walter Little play for North Harbour at Saturday's match venue, is hopeful his side can repeat last week's stunning win.
"It's been a good week of prep and we are going out there to play our game. Play quicker than what the Blues play," he said.
The Sunwolves' unlucky run with injuries saw them lose Shane Gates to a broken leg and Keito Shigeno to a rib cartilage ailment against the Chiefs and has forced Hansen to rearrange his backline for the game against the winless Blues.
Jamie Booth replaces Shigeno at scrumhalf with Rikiya Matsuda starting ahead of Hayden Parker, who has worn the No. 10 jersey in every minute of every game this season. Jason Emery moves from fullback to outside center and Semisi Masirewa comes in at 15.
The forwards, who were outstanding last week, show two changes, both in the second row, with Tom Rowe and James Moore replacing Luke Thompson, who is being rested, and Uwe Helu, who starts on the bench.
The two sides have played twice before in Tokyo, with the Sunwolves winning 48-21 in July 2017 and the Blues prevailing 24-10 in April last year.
1. Pauliasi Manu, 2. Atsushi Sakate, 3. Hiroshi Yamashita, 4. Tom Rowe, 5. James Moore, 6. Hendrik Tui, 7. Shuhei Matsuhashi, 8. Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, 9. Jamie Booth, 10. Rikiya Matsuda, 11. Jamie Henry, 12. Michael Little (c), 13. Jason Emery, 14. Gerhard van den Heever, 15. Semisi Masirewa
Replacements: 16. Nathan Vella, 17. Alex Woonton, 18. Asaeli Ai Valu, 19. Uwe Helu, 20. Dan Pryor, 21. Keisuke Uchida, 22. Hayden Parker, 23. Phil Burleigh