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Sunwolves could find home in new JRFU backed Japanese rugby league

By Alex Shaw
(Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

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Japan‘s stock as a rugby-playing nation has been on the rise since their historic win over South Africa in Brighton at the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the Japanese Rugby Football Union (JRFU) seem keen to build on that.


The nation is set to host the upcoming RWC later this year, with the tournament kicking off in September when Japan take on Russia at the Tokyo Stadium.

Japan, who are also in a group with Ireland, Scotland and Samoa, will be hoping that by hosting the tournament, not only does the country receive the economic benefits that staging an event of this magnitude can bring, but that it also provides a surge in popularity for the sport in the country.

To coincide with that, JRFU vice president Katsuyuki Kiyomiya has proposed a new professional league in the country that would begin in 2021 and be based around the 12 venues that are set to be utilised at the RWC later this year.

The 12 stadiums cover the length and breadth of the country and with the smallest of the 12, the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, still able to hold 16, 187, there is plenty of scope to cater for larger crowds than the Top League sides currently attract.

The competition, which would begin in September and end in January or February, would keep the Japanese top flight running in conjunction with the nation’s fellow northern hemisphere competitions, albeit with a considerably shorter season.

Kiyomiya, who was a coach at Suntory Sungoliath and Yamaha Júbilo before becoming VP at the JRFU earlier this year, has reportedly spoken to a number of current Top League clubs and that “six to eight” were in agreement with the proposal.


There has been a swell in player movement to the Top League of late, with plenty of Super Rugby franchises, particularly those in South Africa and Australia, struggling to retain their players in the face of better wages and the relatively short season on offer in Japan. Should this proposal go through and the RWC provides the surge in interest for the sport that the JRFU are hoping for, this new competition would likely enjoy an even bigger financial disparity with the southern hemisphere nations than the Top League currently offers.

The new league could also be the salvation of the Sunwolves, with the Super Rugby side currently gearing up for its final season in the southern hemisphere competition, with SANZAAR having decided to move on without them following the conclusion of the 2020 season.

Watch: RugbyPass’ guide to all the adventures and entertainment on offer in Japan later this year

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