Super Rugby: Reports suggest Sunwolves out after this season
SYDNEY (AP) — Super Rugby's governing body plans to issue a statement on Friday over the future of the 15-team competition with speculation that the Tokyo-based Sunwolves will be cut after just three years in the tournament.
Australian media on Wednesday reported the decision had already been made, with suggestions that the competition will become a 14-team, single division tournament. Currently there are three five-team conferences, forcing at least one team to have a bye each weekend.
"SANZAAR and its stakeholders will not be making any comment on Super Rugby until the statement has been released," SANZAAR said in a brief statement.
The Sunwolves have won only seven of their 43 matches since joining the competition in 2016.
The Australian newspaper, citing a Sunwolves spokesperson, said the team had objected to a request from SANZAAR to pay a Super Rugby participation fee, which is not asked of any of the other franchises.
The Sunwolves, fourth in the five-team Australian conference after losing four of their five games this season, joined Super Rugby along with South Africa's Southern Kings and Argentina's Jaguares when the competition expanded from 15 to 18 teams in 2016.
The Japanese franchise retained its spot when the tournament was reduced to 15 teams last year after the expanded format proved unpopular with fans and broadcasters. Then, the Kings and Cheetahs from South Africa and the Western Force from Perth, Australia were cut.
SANZAAR has been criticized, based on its hope for increased television revenue, for expanding the original Super 12 tournament in the first place — from 14 to 15 teams in 2011, to 18 in 2016, back to 15 in 2018 and now reportedly back to 14 next year.
In the current format, five teams from New Zealand are grouped in one conference, four teams from Australia and the Sunwolves are in another conference and four teams from South Africa and the Argentina-based Jaguares are in the third conference.