Sunwolves confirm Super Rugby exit
Japanese Super Rugby franchise, the Sunwolves, has confirmed its exit from the southern hemisphere premier rugby competition in 2020, and for good, after a deal couldn’t be found for them to enter the Australian revamped competition caused by the COVID-19 changes.
End of Sunwolves in Super Rugby
In May, we reported that Sunwolves CEO Yuji Watase said “There’s nothing we can do in this situation but give up,” but they were given a glimmer of hope thereafter. However, the dream is now over, with the CEO saying this week “The reality is that the Sunwolves time in Super Rugby has come to an end for now. It has been an honour and privilege for us to be part of the toughest rugby competition in the world.”
The Tokyo-based team, which also played some games in Singapore would have been required to complete a 14-day quarantine period and find a permanent base for the 12-week competition in Australia reported the Japan Times.
What did Rugby Australia say?
Rugby Australia and the Sunwolves announced on Monday, June 1st 2020 that the Sunwolves team will not take part in the Australian five-team modified Super Rugby competition
Australia Rugby said in a statement: “Despite the best efforts and intentions of both organisations, challenges created by COVID-19 will prevent the team from having time to adequately prepare and be ready to participate in the Australia-based competition which is planned for a July 3 kick-off.”
Rugby Australia interim CEO, Rob Clarke said: “We all agree that this is not the way we wanted or believed that the 2020 Super Rugby season would play out when it kicked off back in late January, the impact of COVID-19 has been unprecedented and unforeseen.”
What did the JRFU say?
Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) Chairman Shigetaka Mori said “The Sunwolves, loved by many fans, have reached the end of the 2020 season… The five-year trajectory of Sunwolves will never disappear.”
He added, “Going forward, we will continue to make use of the experience gained by the existence of the Sunwolves to work with fans and other stakeholders to further develop Japan Rugby.”
Future of the Sunwolves?
Japanese Rugby seems to be at a crossroads, amplified by the success of the national team at the RWC 2019. Despite a best-ever finish at the Rugby World Cup, in which the Brave Blossoms beat Scotland and Ireland on the way to a first quarter-final, the Sunwolves were already heading towards the Super Rugby exit door after it was announced in March 2019 the team would be playing its final season in 2020.
There were some ongoing whispers that the team may extend their stay in Super Rugby after the Rugby World Cup.
The franchise was lauded for its contribution to the success of the Japan national team in the lead up to the World Cup which allowed the coaches to have players in squad rotations and prepare extensively by using the Sunwolves to test players in the 2019 season.
However, despite the flair and running style of the Sunwolves, which only resulted in 9 wins in their 5 seasons, the team was plagued by controversy too. The number of foreign players was the biggest criticism and the team and the Japan Top League owners never really working in cooperation.
Micheal Leitch said in a recent interview with Asia Rugby that he felt the Sunwolves also missed an opportunity by not including more Asian based players in the setup.
There has been some speculation the Sunwolves, or a Japanese team, could join the Global Rapid Rugby, but that league itself was cut short in its inaugural season in 2020 and has question marks over its future.
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