According to The Daily Telegraph, the Tokyo-based franchise could be cut from the competition as early as next year as Sanzaar contemplate reverting Super Rugby back to a 14-team tournament.
South African officials are said to be leading the charge for the omission of the Sunwolves in a financially-motivated move that would see the cash-strapped South African Rugby Union receive a greater slice of monetary pie.
However, Fox Sports understands that Rugby Australia has thrown its support behind the existence of the Sunwolves – who compete in the Australian conference in Super Rugby – while the franchise itself highlighted to Stuff that their participation agreement is in place until the end of the 2020 season.
Furthermore, the Sunwolves have also been included in next season’s draw, suggesting they are still in Sanzaar’s future plans.
Sanzaar officials are expected to meet in the United Kingdom on Sunday to discuss plans around the future of Super Rugby, just days before representatives from tier one nations, Fiji and Japan will congregate in Dublin to negotiate details of the recently-announced World Rugby Nations Championship.
A new Super Rugby broadcasting deal isn’t expected to come to fruition until 2021, when many are anticipating a radical shake-up of the existing competition structure.
That could mean reducing the number of participating teams to 14, but the culling of the Sunwolves – or any other side in the competition – could be made by 2020 should broadcasters agree that it’s in the best interest to do so.
It wouldn’t be the first time Sanzaar has cut teams from Super Rugby.
After expanding from 15 to 18 teams in 2016 under a new broadcast deal, the tournament was reverted back to a 15-team structure last year during the current deal following a vast array of lopsided results and a decreased quality of competition.
The Southern Kings and the Cheetahs of South Africa and the Western Force of Australia were the victims of that culling, with the South African franchises transferring to the Pro14 competition in Europe, while the Force were overtaken by billionaire Andrew Forrest, who formed his own league – Global Rapid Rugby – for the Perth-based club to partake in.
Incidentally, the report from The Daily Telegraph comes after the Sunwolves have enjoyed their most successful start to a season in their brief history.
After sustaining a 45-10 drubbing at the hands of the Sharks in Singapore, the Tony Brown-coached side were unlucky to lose to the Waratahs 31-30 in Tokyo, before upsetting the Chiefs 30-15 at Waikato Stadium to post their first-ever win away from home.
They face the winless Blues at QBE Stadium in Albany this weekend.
The Short Ball – The World Rugby Nations Championship Debacle:
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