Super Rugby 2019: Sunwolves handed lifeline in second-tier competition

The Sunwolves may continue to exist beyond 2021, just not in Super Rugby, according to reports.

On Friday, SANZAAR is expected to announce the Japanese franchise will be axed after next season.

But the Sydney Morning Herald reports the Sunwolves could be incorporated into a second-division style competition called 'Rapid Rugby', in partnership with Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest, who was behind the campaign to save the Western Force in 2017.

The competition would be SANZAAR-endorsed and part-owned by Forrest, featuring the Sunwolves, Force, Fiji, Samoa, Hong Kong and Singapore, while a team from Malaysia and a second Australian team - likely from the Newcastle region - could be added.

The move is part of SANZAAR's secret plans moving forward, with their broadcasting deal due to expire in 2020.

The concept is understood to be the next cab off the rank for SANZAAR, who can't make any broader decisions on the Rugby Championship or other competitions, until there is certainty about World Rugby's global proposal.

If the Nations Championship goes ahead, Fiji would join the Rugby Championship, but Japan's inclusion still has a question mark hanging over it.

Dan Pryor.
Dan Pryor. Photo credit: Photosport

On top of that, South Africa, who contribute the largest share of broadcast revenue, is believed to be pushing hard for the Sunwolves to be dropped. Its teams are reportedly opposed to visiting Asia to play them and fans don't attend their road games.

They have support from Argentina, with travel also being cited as a major season behind their views.

The Sunwolves have a dismal record since joining the competition, winning seven matches and losing 43, while they were reportedly asked to pay a participation fee - the only outfit to face that stipulation - and refused.

Despite that, they attract an average of 15,000 or more to their home games at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo.

If the Sunwolves get the chop, there will be plenty of backlash over timing, with Japan due to host the Rugby World Cup in six months' time.

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