Super Rugby is considering the entry of Japanese Top League teams into a radically restructured 2021 competition.
The tournament was already set for major change next season, with a move to a 14-team, round-robin format, and the departure of the Japan-based Sunwolves. Bigger changes are now being considered.
Among the new ideas being floated by organisers for next year include inviting the two top-placed Top League teams to take part in a Super Rugby finals series. The Japanese teams would meet the winners of conferences in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa-Argentina. An eight-team finals series would be played in June or early July next year, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
Despite the Sunwolves’ exit from Super Rugby, there is still strong interest in the country that Japanese teams remain involved. There are strong commercial incentives for the Super Rugby organisers – Japan is a large market with many potential sponsors. The Japanese Top League has paid large salaries for star players in recent years, and the teams are backed by some of the country’s biggest corporations, including Panasonic, Suntory, Toyota, Ricoh and Kobelco.
Japanese rugby authorities have been working on a revamp of the Top League for 2021, although the shape of that is as yet unclear. The original 12-team, fully-professional concept, based in the 2019 World Cup host cities, has been changed to a three-division concept. It would include teams from the Top League, second-tier Top Challenge League and new teams.
Super Rugby has currently been halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic and looks unlikely to resume this year given the international travel and other logistical challenges. New Zealand and Australia have announced plans to run internal, domestic competitions featuring their Super Rugby teams this year.