Japan Rugby Football Union chairman Tatsuzo Yabe gave a few clues Monday as to how Japan’s new Super Rugby team will be structured and hinted that Japan’s participation could result in changes in how the sport is run domestically.
But he stopped short of giving any definitive answers to the many questions that have been asked since Japan was awarded a team in the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest rugby competition from 2016.
SANZAR — the body that runs rugby in the Southern Hemisphere — announced in November that Japan had beaten out a bid from a Singapore-based franchise to join Argentina in the expanded Super Rugby competition. But little has been heard from the JRFU since then — in marked contrast to the Argentine union, which announced last week it had already secured the signatures of 15 players.
“We hope to have the initial organization in place by March and the financial budget will start in October of this year,” Yabe told Kyodo News, though he said he was unable to say when the coach or any of the players would start putting pen to paper.
Insiders at various clubs are still questioning how the players will be contracted, with some pointing to the poor results of the Japan sevens team (which has won just one game out of 20 on the Sevens World Series) as proof of what happens if players are not centrally contracted by the JRFU to ensure their release.
“We have talked to the corporate teams and players about the need to call up the best players and none have voiced their objection, so I don’t think that will be a problem,” Yabe said.
And how can a Northern Hemisphere side with its own successful domestic league participate in a competition where the seasons are in reverse? (Kyodo News has already learned that the 2015-16 Top League season will be an abbreviated affair due to Rugby World Cup 2015 and Japan’s Super Rugby debut.)
“The Top League generally goes from August to January, while Super Rugby runs from March to July so this is no conflict in that regard,” Yabe said. “However, that does mean there is little time for players to rest so we will have to take that into account.”
Having players join Super Rugby would mean they miss the All-Japan Championship — under the current structure of the season — and Yabe said the JRFU was discussing whether to change the format of the cup competition.
“The Japan Cup has a 52-year history and we believe it is important to keep it,” he said. “But we need to think how we can hold it so it doesn’t conflict with Super Rugby, and again to ensure the welfare of the players is catered for.”
Japan has said the Super Rugby team will in essence be the national team, but Yabe said the door was open for players not eligible for the Brave Blossoms to play.
“We have signed an agreement with SANZAR for five years, but we would like to have a Super Rugby team for longer,” he said. “So it’s important we don’t have a weak team and don’t keep losing at the beginning. We need good players, so we may pick, under Super Rugby regulations, some non-eligible players who can hopefully contribute to improving the level of Japanese rugby.”
And while he didn’t rule out the possibility of students playing in the new side — a day after Teikyo University beat Top League side NEC Green Rockets in the AJC — he said much would depend on the universities, which all have their own regulations about releasing players.
As far as finances were concerned, Yabe explained that the JRFU would have to bear the costs of the seven or eight home games — of which three would be played in at the Sports Hub in Singapore — while SANZAR would pay for the costs of the away games.
“Sponsors and ticket sales should cover the costs for the games in Japan, while we have a contract with the Singapore Rugby Union and the owners of the Sports Hub for the games in Singapore,” Yabe said.
“As far as costs of the team are concerned, most of the players will be part of the Japan squad so we assume the costs will be more reasonable than for other Super Rugby teams.”
Yabe was able to confirm that the team would be based in Tokyo at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground but he said it may be possible some games are played at stadiums that will host games at Rugby World Cup 2019.
The decision as to which venues will host games is expected in mid-March.