Super Rugby: Sunwolves to leave Super Rugby in 2020

The Sunwolves are officially moving on from Super Rugby.

On Friday, governing body SANZAAR confirmed speculation that the Japanese franchise will leave the competition at the end of their broadcast deal in 2020.

The tournament will revert to a 14-team round robin format in the 2021 season.

The Japan Rugby Football Union is the catalyst for the team's departure, having decided that Super Rugby "no longer remains the best pathway for the development of players for the national team" and therefore, couldn't justify its financing beyond its current deal.

"SANZAAR was advised by the JRFU in early March that they would no longer be in a position to financially underwrite the Sunwolves future participation post 2020," CEO Andy Marinos said in a statement. "The future of the Sunwolves will now be determined by the JRFU."

The Sunwolves have struggled since entering the tournament in 2016, when rugby powers identified the Asian market as vital to the game's expansion.

Despite some recent success - including their first-ever away win (against the Chiefs in week three) - they have won a total of just seven games, losing 43. 

But while they may be leaving Super Rugby, there is talk that the Sunwolves could live on as part of 'Rapid Rugby' - a proposed second-division style competition that would feature the likes of the Western Force, Fiji, Samoa, Hong Kong and Singapore.

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.

Meanwhile, Super Rugby moves back to the 14-team iteration it last saw in 2010. The current three conference system will be scrapped, and each team will play every other team home or away each season. 

This means 13 matches for each team, with two byes, in the regular season with the number of home and away matches varying from six to seven based on a two-year alternate match schedule.