International Rugby Board chief executive Brett Gosper has admitted that the governing body would like a Japanese team to join the Super Rugby club rugby union tournament.
The competition, which is operated by Sanzar, representing the national unions of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, currently has 15 teams. A franchise from Argentina and a sixth South African team will join the tournament, and an 18th spot is expected to be taken up by an Asian team in 2016, according to the Australian newspaper.
Japan will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but the country is likely to face competition from Singapore, which is also considering a bid for the expansion franchise. The capital of Japan, Tokyo, will also stage the 2020 summer Olympic Games, which will feature rugby sevens.
“The IRB, given there is a World Cup in Japan in 2019, we would be very happy with any part of Asia,” Gosper said. “Certainly anything that continues to gain momentum in Japan would be appealing for us. Our preference is they choose something that makes it work for the competition obviously, but Japan would be interesting for us. It may provide other challenges from a logistics point of view. Flights from South Africa and so on might not be the simplest option, but look at it from a purely selfish IRB stand, Japan would be interesting.”
Gosper, who said that it was unlikely that a combined Pacific Islands team would join Super Rugby, added that expanding into Japan would stoke interest in the sport in the country. “It would build the competitiveness of some of the Japanese players who were in that (national) team,” he said. “It would provide interest for the fan base there. It would be good momentum towards the World Cup and eventually the Olympics where sevens will be played next time after Rio.”