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Blow for Japanese rugby as Sunwolves excluded from Super Rugby's plans

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Conan O'Donnell of Sunwolves is tackled by Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias of Jaguares during a Super Rugby 2019 match at the Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires, Argentina in June 2019. Photo: Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images

Conan O'Donnell of Sunwolves is tackled by Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias of Jaguares during a Super Rugby 2019 match at the Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires, Argentina in June 2019. Photo: Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images

Getty Images for Sunwolves

Conan O'Donnell of Sunwolves is tackled by Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias of Jaguares during a Super Rugby 2019 match at the Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires, Argentina in June 2019. Photo: Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images

Japanese rugby has been dealt a major blow after confirmation that the Sunwolves will not be part of any of Super Rugby's plans moving forward.

The news comes as a huge setback following the success of last year's World Cup in the Far East.

The writing had been on the wall for the Sunwolves since they were axed from next season's Super Rugby competition, and now their fate has been sealed after a last-ditch attempt to join Australia's domestic competition failed.

The Sunwolves joined Super Rugby in 2016 and were seen as a gateway for Japanese rugby to accelerate their rapid development rate.

However, in their four full seasons in the competition, the club, which was based in Tokyo, only managed to win eight games in total.

Before Super Rugby was brought to a halt due to Covid-19, the Sunwolves were rooted to the foot of the Australian standings, as well as the overall table, having only won one of their six games this season.

The club had attempted to be part of Australia's domestic Super Rugby tournament, which will include the country's four Super Rugby teams – Queensland Reds, Waratahs, Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels — along with the previously axed Western Force.

But their efforts fell on deaf ears, and the Sunwolves will not be part of that tournament, which is set to kick off on July 3.

"We apologise to people who had been looking forward to the resumption of matches," Sunwolves CEO Yuji Watase said.

"Following this decision, the Sunwolves’ time with Super Rugby, which has seen us participate for the past five seasons, will end.

"We are bitterly disappointed to conclude the season in this way, but we also feel honoured to have participated in the best rugby competition.

"The Sunwolves, loved by many fans, have reached the end of the 2020 season," Japan Rugby Football Union chairman Shigetaka Mori added.

"The five-year trajectory of Sunwolves will never disappear.

"When the Japan national team's success in the Rugby World Cup last year was talked about, it proved to many fans that the existence of the Sunwolves was a key factor behind this.

"Going forward, we will continue to make use of the experience gained by the existence of the Sunwolves to work with fans and other stakeholders to further develop Japan Rugby."

Given the Sunwolves' struggles in recent seasons, Rugby Australia had been reluctant to include them in their plans as interim chief executive, Rob Clarke, also pointed to the logistical challenges that the Japanese outfit would have faced.

"However, the reality is, given the timeframe available the team’s preparation for the competition would be severely compromised," Clarke said.

"All parties agree that despite our collective efforts and desire to see the Sunwolves take part in the competition, under the current circumstances their participation will not be feasible."

Online Editors