Rugby: Buck up to win back Super Rugby fans, Sunwolves told

Willie Britz (top left) of the Sunwolves controls the ball from a line out during the Super Rugby match between the Sunwolves of Japan and the Blues of New Zealand.
Willie Britz (top left) of the Sunwolves controls the ball from a line out during the Super Rugby match between the Sunwolves of Japan and the Blues of New Zealand.PHOTO: AFP

WELLINGTON • Underperforming Super Rugby sides have been told they need to show improvement to help win back fans, as the draw for next year's revamped 15-team tournament was released yesterday.

One of those teams, Japan's Sunwolves, who are co-based in Singapore, have also had their governance moved away from the Japan Rugby Football Union to an independent body that will work more closely with the tournament organiser s Sanzaar.

"We cannot hide away from the high performance and financial realities of the game in the markets in which we play," Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos said.

"The teams that have not performed need to start producing a more attractive brand of rugby that re-engages fans, produces competitive results and winning performances."

Super Rugby expanded to 18 teams for this year with the addition of Argentina's Jaguares, the Sunwolves and South Africa's Kings, but the organisers were forced into a rethink amid unrest from fans and broadcasters over its complicated structure.

Sanzaar agreed to dump three teams for next season, with South Africa's Cheetahs and Kings leaving to join the Pro14 competition in Europe and the Australian Rugby Union cutting Western Force after a court battle.

"The tournament was not working with 18 teams," Marinos said. "The structure was confusing, the outcomes of matches were becoming too predictable and the fans and stakeholders had, through our surveys, voiced their concerns."

While Australian sides underperformed in the last two seasons, the Jaguares and Sunwolves have also failed to meet expectations.

The Jaguares, essentially the Argentina national team, won four games in their debut season and seven this year, but failed to make the play-offs. The Sunwolves fared even worse, winning just three matches over two seasons, and found themselves on the end of 80-point deficits, which undoubtedly prompted Sanzaar to step in.

"Their performances over the first two seasons have been disappointing and improvement is required," Marinos said.

"A structural reform has been implemented where responsibility for the Sunwolves will move from the Japan Rugby Football Union to the entity known as Japan Super Rugby Association."

Sunwolves, who have moved to the Australian Conference from the South African Conference, play the Melbourne Rebels on March 3 and South Africa's Bulls on June 30 next year at Singapore's National Stadium.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2017, with the headline 'Buck up to win back Super Rugby fans, Sunwolves told'. Print Edition | Subscribe