Japan is poised to be awarded a Super Rugby expansion franchise after agreeing a hosting deal with rival bidder Singapore, according to reports.
Sanzar, the club rugby union competition’s governing body, announced in July that bids from Japan and Singapore would compete to land the final expansion slot for Super Rugby. Sanzar, the umbrella body for the Australian, New Zealand and South African unions, in May unveiled plans to expand the competition to 18 teams. The tournament currently features five teams each from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, but is set to expand to 17 teams from 2016 through the addition of new clubs from Argentina and South Africa.
The Reuters news agency has now said that Japan has offered to host matches in Singapore as a means to alleviate concerns over long travel times from South Africa. The 18th franchise would be pooled in one of two African conferences, meaning 10-hour flight times for teams coming from Johannesburg to Singapore, with Tokyo another eight hours by air from the city-state.
As part of July’s announcement, Sanzar had stated that geographic location was among the key criteria when shortlisting the two Asian bids. According to Reuters, South African Rugby Union (SARU) president Oregan Hoskins has now stated that Japan’s bid has been altered to include Singapore as a host for some of the matches.
The new plan is understood to include hosting up to four games for the Japan team at the 55,000-seat National Stadium – the centrepiece of the new Singapore Sports Hub development. Singapore Rugby Union president Low Teo Ping has denied reports that Hong Kong could stage some matches, but has refused to comment on Singapore’s chances of winning the Sanzar vote.
“Hong Kong is not part of the equation,” Low said. “We are supporting one bid, but we are the venue for the other bid so it doesn't matter.”
Despite the latest development, Hoskins has said the bidding process remains a close affair. “They have put forward their proposals, they are really both attractive,” he added. “I wish I could tell you which way Sanzar is going to go but right now Sanzar has not decided. Sanzar is considering it quite diligently. It's very much under discussion, serious discussion.”