Dumped! Sunwolves gone as new Super Rugby format revealed

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Friday, 22 March 2019, 4:38PM
Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

The Sunwolves have been given the axe from Super Rugby.

As reported earlier this week, SANZAAR have confirmed that they've dropped the only Asian-based franchise in the competition, and will revert to a 14-team round-robin competition format.

The revised format will come into operation and kick-off in 2021. The Sunwolves will drop out of the existing 15-team Super Rugby competition at the end of the 2020 season.

The Japanese franchise has struggled since joining Super Rugby in 2016, winning just seven of their 43 games.

They won their first away game this month when they upset the Chiefs 30-15 in Hamilton.

"The decision to further consolidate the competition format to a 14-team round robin was not taken lightly," said SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos.

"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."

Amanaki Lelei Mafi of the Sunwolves. Photo / Photosport
Amanaki Lelei Mafi of the Sunwolves. Photo / Photosport

Super Rugby will therefore comprise the existing five New Zealand teams, four South African teams, four Australian teams and the Jaguares from South America. The agreed format will be played within the next commercial broadcast window starting in 2021.

South Africa reportedly pushed hard for the Sunwolves to be dropped by the competition as it opposed having to travel to Asia to play them and because of a lack of fan attendance during road games.

However, with the current broadcast agreement running until the end of the 2020 season, the Japanese club will still have to field a team next year.

That team is likely to be made up of a host of Kiwi and Australian players, with the season set to clash with the Japanese Top League 2019-20 campaign, which has been pushed back due to the World Cup.

The Daily Telegraph reports that many of the Sunwolves' Japanese talents are also contracted in the Top League which is where they earn the bulk of their salaries. As a result, they won't be available for the Sunwolves.

This season's Sunwolves are already loaded with Anzac talent, with 14 Kiwis and four Australians among this year's squad.

"SANZAAR was advised by the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) in early March that they would no longer be in a position to financially underwrite the Sunwolves future participation post 2020," said Marinos.

"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."

The 14-team round robin format will see the removal of the current three conference system and will see each team play every other team home or away each season. This means 13 matches for each team, with two byes, in the regular season with the number of home and away matches varying from six to seven based on a two-year alternate match schedule.

This will then lead into a new top six finals series. The top two ranked teams on the competition ladder will receive a bye in week one before hosting semifinal matches against the winners from a knockout round between teams ranked three to six.

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