The nomadic Sunwolves should make the Sunshine State their home base in their final Super Rugby season, moreover Townsville in the north with a new 25,000-seat stadium. It would be a win-win for all parties concerned starting with their match against the Reds on April 5. The north has been crying out for a Super Rugby match, something they haven’t experienced since 2006 and, as I reported last year, there is a healthy following of rugby union up there: https://brisbanerugby.com/2019/07/09/rugby-in-the-regions/.
With the onset of coronavirus tourism has had a huge setback and I’m sure Tourism & Events Minister, Kate Jones, would bend over backwards to help the Japanese team out. The extra Japanese eyeballs on the area would be welcome, especially if they played out the rest of their ‘home’ games there and their Tokyo supporters made there way to Tropical Queensland.
The Sunwolves are like ronin, or masterless samurai, although they are a motley crew of ex-pat Aussie, Kiwis, South Africans and some Japanese they do have some local Queensland representatives, such as captain Jake Shatz, to build some domestic support behind moving forward especially if they evolve into a team in Global Rapid Rugby next season. I know Tim Horan’s son Alex, who debuted for the Sunwolves two weeks ago in New Zealand, has two compatriots in Townsville at James Cook University that played Colts with him in Brisbane that would be getting behind the side.
Back in 2016, a major revolution was afoot with the expansion of Super Rugby to 18 teams across six countries, four unions, both hemisphere’s and numerous time zones. The convoluted system incorporating four conferences was too hard to comprehend and player fatigue due to frequent flyer mileage was a factor that was difficult to manage. Micromanagement saw the teams culled to 15, but this is also seen as too cumbersome and a new 14 or 15-team competition will begin after the current broadcast deal expires next year; starting in 2021.
I remember in 2009 on the Gold Coast talking with then Japanese coach and All Black legend, John Kirwan. I brought up the idea of having a Japanese based Super Rugby franchise, to which Jk said, “No-way, impossible, the company teams in Japan are way too powerful“. In Australia, we could see the merit of a Japanese team with the time-slot 1 hour behind Eastern Standard Time wedged between the Western Force matches in Perth.
“No-way, impossible, the company teams in Japan are way too powerful“.
Fast forward to 2019 and another All Black legend, current Queensland Reds coach, Brad Thorn. He’s come out strongly supporting the Sunwolves. After last Saturday’s match at Chichibu-no-Miya Stadium in Tokyo saying, “Look at that game today, look at the Sunwolves this season, they’ve been outstanding. It’s so good for rugby in Japan, look at the crowd. It would be disappointing and sad if Sunwolves were no longer part of it.”
Unfortunately, it’s official that from the Super Rugby 2021 season the Sunwolves will no longer be a part of the competition. In the words of SANZAAR CEO Andy Marino, “The decision to further consolidate the competition format to a 14-team round robin was not taken lightly. It has involved some detailed analysis and a thorough review of the current and future rugby landscape, tournament costs, commercial and broadcast considerations and player welfare in line with our Strategic Plan.”
Maybe John Kirwan was right, as sources have inferred that the JRFU never really liked the concept of the Sunwolves. This view was even voiced to SANZAAR by the JRFU as Marino reiterated, “SANZAAR was advised by the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) in early March that they would no longer be in a position to financially underwrite the Sunwolves future participation post 2020. The future of the Sunwolves will now be determined by the JRFU which has determined that Super Rugby no longer remains the best pathway for the development of players for the national team.”
There’s a lot of issues to be sorted out, with finances being a major concern, along with the disruption to the Top League season in Japan. Moving forward, it’s time to have a good chat with Andrew Forrest about becoming a part of Global Rapid Rugby.