Official: Sunwolves out in the cold after Super Rugby axing

Malcolm Marx of the Emirates Lions scores during the Super Rugby match between Emirates Lions and Sunwolves at Emirates Airline Park on March 17, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Malcolm Marx of the Emirates Lions scores during the Super Rugby match between Emirates Lions and Sunwolves at Emirates Airline Park on March 17, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Gordon Arons/ Gallo Images

South Africa‚ New Zealand‚ Australia and Argentina (Sanzaar) chief executive Andy Marinos confirmed on Friday that Japan’s Sunwolves would be cut from Super Rugby in 2021.

Marinos also confirmed that the tournament would return to a 14-team format in 2021‚ a decade after the last 14-team competition in 2011.

Although the official message was for Sanzaar to cut the Sunwolves centred on funding‚ there was huge dissatisfaction with the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) after their conduct around the Rugby World Cup 2023 voting process.

Sanzaar countries agreed to vote in line with the outcome of World Rugby’s preferred bidder process. South Africa were chosen as the preferred bidder by an independent panel over France and Ireland.

Although Japan is not a Sanzaar member‚ they were given a seat at the table via the Sunwolves‚ but chose to vote against SA and the World Cup ultimately was awarded to France.

“Sanzaar was advised by JRFU in early March that they would no longer be in a position to financially underwrite the Sunwolves’ future participation post-2020‚ Marinos said.

“The future of the Sunwolves will now be determined by the JRFU‚ which has determined that Super Rugby no longer remains the best pathway for the development of players for the national team.

“However‚ Japan and the Asia-Pacific region remain strategically important to Sanzaar.

“We will continue to work with the JRFU‚ Japan Super Rugby Association (JSRA) and other stakeholders‚ as we have done throughout this review process‚ to establish a truly professional league structure in Japan in which current and potentially new teams could participate.

“We have presented options to them around the establishment of a Super Rugby Asia-Pacific competition structure including Japan‚ the Pacific Islands‚ North and South America and Hong Kong.

“The concept includes linking high performance programmes of such nations into the potential competition structure. The aim is to deliver a competitive and sustainable international pathway that can align to both current and future considerations around the international calendar.”

So far the Sunwolves have played 51 matches in Super Rugby and won only seven‚ with 43 losses and one draw.

Super Rugby’s return to a 14-team competition will see it revert to a 13-round pool phase where every team plays against the others. The conference system has been scrapped.

The only difference to the structure from the last 14-team incarnation is that six teams will qualify for a three-week long “Super Series” playoff.

“The decision to further consolidate the competition format to a 14-team round-robin was not taken lightly‚” Marinos said.

“It has involved some detailed analysis and a thorough review of the current and future rugby landscape‚ tournament costs‚ commercial and broadcast considerations and player welfare in line with our strategic plan.

“Competition integrity‚ affordability and a competitive playing environment were further key drivers to ensure that an optimal player development pathway remains in place to feed into international rugby.”

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.