Rugby: Super Rugby back to 15 sides but Sunwolves safe

Kings' Andisa Ntsila and Ruan Stephen Lerm tackling Sunwolves' Timothy Lafaele at the National Stadium, Singapore, on April 4, 2017.
Kings' Andisa Ntsila and Ruan Stephen Lerm tackling Sunwolves' Timothy Lafaele at the National Stadium, Singapore, on April 4, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY • Sanzaar yesterday revealed that the struggling Sunwolves were never in danger of Super Rugby's cull because of the governing body's desire to grow the sport in Asia. But three other teams - one from Australia and two from South Africa - will be axed as the competition reverts to 15 teams for next season.

The South African and Australian unions will make the decision over which of their teams will go. However, the Perth-based Western Force, Bloemfontein side the Cheetahs and Port Elizabeth-based Kings look most vulnerable to the axe.

Australia's remaining four teams will be joined by the Sunwolves - co-based in Tokyo and Singapore - in one conference in the restructured competition with Argentina's Jaguares and the four South African teams in another.

Sanzaar chairman Brent Impey said the Sunwolves, who on Saturday beat South Africa's Northern Bulls 21-20 in Tokyo for their first win of the campaign, had not been considered for the axe despite their poor playing record.

"The decision to retain the Sunwolves is linked directly to Sanzaar's strategic plan for the future. The potential for growth of the sport in Asia off the back of the establishment of the Sunwolves and the impending World Cup (in Japan) in 2019 is significant."

New Zealand, whose long dominance of the competition has intensified over the last couple of years, will retain all five teams in a third conference.

Impey added: "Naturally we understand that there will be some very disappointed franchises but the tournament's long-term future and the economic reality of the business at present is something that had to be addressed."

The axings come after widespread criticism of the first season of the 18-team format, which was introduced last year after the Jaguares and the Sunwolves joined the competition and the Kings returned.

The Australian Rugby Union have called a news conference today to address the restructure, while South African Rugby said they would "begin internal consultations" over which teams to cut. Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby said: "Fans, media and broadcasters have spoken and we have listened to them. The 18-team Super Rugby competition has not worked and we had to face up to that hard fact."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2017, with the headline 'Super Rugby back to 15 sides but Sunwolves safe'. Print Edition | Subscribe