SYDNEY - Japan’s ground-breaking Sunwolves team are set to be axed from Super Rugby, a report said on Wednesday, as the governing body prepared to make an announcement about the competition’s future.
Sydney’s Daily Telegraph said the Sunwolves would be sacrificed as the 15-team, globe-crossing tournament reverts to 14 sides and a round-robin format, ditching its unpopular conference system.
The unsourced report came as governing body SANZAAR said it would make a statement on the “future of Super Rugby” on Friday.
The Telegraph said Sunwolves officials and players were told about the decision on Tuesday, leaving them “devastated.”
A spokeswoman for the Tokyo-based team told AFP: “We are still waiting for Friday’s official announcement and at this stage have no comment to make.”
According to published reports, the 2020 campaign will be the Sunwolves’ final season in Super Rugby.
The Sunwolves’ introduction in 2016 was part of attempts to expand the game in Asia, which will host its first Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.
Much of the opposition to Asia’s first Super Rugby outfit came from South Africa, the Telegraph said, adding that its teams were opposed to traveling to Tokyo and Singapore for the Sunwolves’ home games.
“All of the participating nations in Super Rugby have been financially propping up the Sunwolves in the hopes of luring more revenue from the untapped Asian market,” the report said.
“It had been hoped that after two or three seasons, cashed up Japanese companies would back the Sunwolves and make them independently sustainable, but that has not materialized.”
While the Sunwolves’ record on the pitch is poor, they have gradually improved and enjoyed their first away win when they shocked the Waikato Chiefs 30-15 earlier this month.
Super Rugby shrank from 18 teams to 15 in 2018, dropping two teams from South Africa and one from Australia in an attempt to streamline.
But it retained the country-based conference system, which has been criticized for its complexity and for giving an easier ride to teams from weaker regions.