By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) - Although they will not be featuring in Super Rugby next season, the Sunwolves may still have a future, the CEO of the Tokyo-based franchise said on Tuesday.
On Monday, the Sunwolves confirmed their final season in Super Rugby is over after their bid to play in a domestic tournament in Australia fell through due to COVID-19 travel and logistics issues.
With rugby preparing to return from the coronavirus shutdown, the Sunwolves had been in talks to join the 12-week tournament slated for July-September.
However, travel curbs and border controls had made it too hard to involve the team.
The Sunwolves were playing their last Super Rugby season in 2020 after the competition decided to cut them last year.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, CEO Yuji Watase said that although the Sunwolves’ Super Rugby run was over for now, it wasn’t certain that the team had played their final match.
“Currently, everything is uncertain about the future of Sunwolves,” he said.
“We are going to discuss with the JRFU (Japan Rugby Football Union) about our next move and the next strengthening plan for Japan.”
There has been some talk of incorporating the Sunwolves - and their devoted nationwide following - into Japan’s domestic Top League competition.
That seems unlikely at this stage however as other sides, many of which are owned by large corporations, may seek to block its entry, while there may also be disputes over which division it should join. Other sides also loaned players to the Sunwolves ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup and will want them back.
The team drew decent crowds to home games in Japan since joining in 2016 but struggled against the southern hemisphere's established sides, winning a total of nine games.
Despite this, Watase looked back with pride at the role that the Sunwolves’ regular involvement in elite competition played in Japan’s success at the World Cup.
“Sunwolves first joined the Super Rugby as a means of strengthening the Japan squad for the 2019 World Cup,” said Watase.
“Looking back to the result from last year, we are assured that Sunwolves fulfilled our duty.”
On home soil, Japan won four matches as they qualified for the knockout stages for the first time, before losing to eventual winners South Africa.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Hugh Lawson)