Despite not having a coach or officially naming a single member of their playing roster, Japan’s new Super Rugby side, the Sunwolves, will be ready to take part in the competition, according to new SANZAR chief executive Andy Marinos.
The South African, who played international rugby for Wales, dismissed fears Wednesday that the Sunwolves may not take their place in the tournament, saying he was “100 percent confident” they would be good to go by the end of February, when the new Super Rugby season kicks off.
“They have contracted a core group of 24 to 25 players at this point,” Marinos told reporters via teleconference.
“The biggest challenge is finalizing their head coach and we anticipate that will be in the next week or two. And there are a number of players who are obviously waiting to understand who that coach is before they commit. We expect to see a lot more traction in the next week or two.”
The Sunwolves are one of three sides to join an expanded, 18-team competition in 2016, along with the return of South Africa’s Southern Kings and a new franchise from Argentina. And while the latter has basically been problem free, there have been serious concerns about the Kings and Sunwolves.
Last week, the South Africa Rugby Union announced it was taking control of the Kings, who are broke and who have been unable to pay players and officials their October salaries.
While the Sunwolves may have contracted 25 players, there have been serious concerns as to the strength of the squad — one of the reasons former Japan coach Eddie Jones opted not to take up the role of director of rugby of the new side following the Rugby World Cup.
Marinos, who officially begins his job in January, admitted he did have “concerns” over how the Kings and Sunwolves will adapt to Super Rugby, but he was hopeful things would work out.
“We are very cautions and aware of what is going ahead with this expansion . . . With the Kings and Japan, it’s a hell of a lot of the unknown — how are they going to adapt to the travel, the schedule,” he said. “But in saying that, I’ve learned one thing in rugby, you can never start writing off teams before the competition properly gets under way.”
The Sunwolves, who will play three of their home games in Singapore, are scheduled to make their debut against South Africa’s Lions in Tokyo on Feb. 27.
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