The Sunwolves may have played their last match of Super Rugby, and it now appears they won’t be playing in a proposed new Japanese domestic competition either.
Prior to Super Rugby’s suspension due to coronavirus, the Tokyo-based franchise was playing in its final season in SANZAAR’s club competition.
It was announced last year that they would be axed following the 2020 season so that the league could abandon its much-maligned conference format and return to a 14-team, round-robin league.
However, plans to revert to a slightly more condensed competition format have been scuppered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has thrown into question the feasibility of Super Rugby as it stands.
The economic downfall that has come with the suspension of the competition has forced officials to re-evaluate what the future of Super Rugby looks like as the tournament continues to wane in fan interest and engagement for a variety of reasons.
Regardless of what form Super Rugby takes from next year onwards, it’s likely the Sunwolves will play no part in any revised formats as likes of New Zealand and Australia continue to work towards establishing local or trans-Tasman competitions.
According to a report from Kyodo News, it seems the club also won’t take any part in a new potential domestic competition based in Japan despite reported interest from Top League giants Kobelco Steelers and Panasonic Wild Knights.
Kyodo News reports that the Steelers, Wild Knights and Munakata Sanix Blues are among the Top League sides eager to join the proposed competition, which would presumably replace the star-studded tournament they currently play in.
Their bid to switch leagues was aided by second-tier club, the Kamaishi Seawaves, which submitted relevant documents to the Japanese Rugby Football Union by Thursday’s deadline to register their interest in the new competition.
Kyodo News states that the JRFU will “consider the new league’s organisation” in accordance with the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but will do so without any recognition of interest from the Sunwolves.
It is reported that the Sunwolves didn’t apply to take part in the proposed league as the franchise surveys its options in overseas competitions.
Specific competitions were left unnamed, but while their future in any breakaway format of Super Rugby is very uncertain, there remains hope from rival clubs of continued involvement by the Sunwolves.
“Everything’s on the table at the moment … a trans-Tasman competition for me would be a great product,” Brumbies head coach Dan McKellar recently told AAP.
“Australia and New Zealand teams, Japan off the back of a World Cup, and the uniqueness that a team like the Sunwolves bring.
“A trans-Tasman comp with an Asian and Pacific feel to it would be a great competition to be involved in and a good product; I think broadcasters would love to get behind it and support it and players would enjoy it as well.”
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Those sentiments were supported by former Wallabies great Tim Horan, who last month suggested a domestic competition featuring the Brumbies, Waratahs, Reds and Rebels, as well as the Sunwolves and fellow SANZAAR rejects, the Western Force, as Australia’s replacement for Super Rugby.
“Super Rugby will look very different in the next five years,” he said on Fox Sports.
“I think it’s probably got to be an Asian-Pacific type model – Australia, New Zealand and allow Japan to stay in the model.
“Then you look at Fiji, Samoa, Tonga.”
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