The Sunwolves will remain part of Super Rugby despite the tournament being cut by three teams, it was announced Sunday.
SANZAAR — the body that runs Southern Hemisphere rugby — said that from 2018, Super Rugby will be a 15-team competition with the South African Rugby Union asked to cut two teams and the Australian Rugby Union one.
“The decision to retain the Sunwolves is linked directly to SANZAAR’s strategic plan for the future,” SANZAAR chairman Brent Impey said in a press release.
“The potential for growth of the sport in Asia off the back of the establishment of the Sunwolves and the impending Rugby World Cup in 2019 is significant. It remains an obvious focus for the organization and a Japanese Super Rugby franchise is key to that strategy.”
The Sunwolves will move from the South Africa conference to the Australia conference where they will play games on a home-and-away basis. They will also play eight cross-conference matches against four of the five teams from each of the other two (New Zealand and South Africa) conferences (four at home and four away).
The playoffs will be an eight-team affair featuring the three conference winners and “five wild card places — the next-best performing teams based on competition points after the conference winners regardless of conference. Conference winners and fourth-placed team on competition points will host quarterfinals.”
SANZAAR said the restructuring was the result of a “need to adjust and strengthen Super Rugby in the short-term to ensure a robust and sustainable tournament (that) meets the requirements of all stakeholders in terms of high performance pathways, game development, commercial revenue and fan engagement.”
The cuts leave the competition with four entries from both South Africa and Australia while New Zealand maintains its five teams.
As for the Sunwolves, it is believed discussions will be held on how to ensure the team remains competitive and how many “home” games will be played in Singapore.
Under the current contract — which runs until the end of the 2020 season — the Sunwolves have to play three games a season in the island state.
However, with crowds far bigger in Tokyo than in Singapore, there is a belief that Japan should host more than five games a season.