The addition of Argentine and Japanese franchises to the Super Rugby pan-regional club competition was officially confirmed today (Thursday), with Tokyo set to share hosting rights to the latter team with Singapore.
Super Rugby organiser Sanzar, the umbrella body for the Australian, New Zealand and South African unions, has completed the competition’s expansion to 18 teams from 2016 by formally confirming the participation of the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) and Union Argentina de Rugby (UAR) at an Executive Committee meeting in London, England.
Sanzar chief executive Greg Peters said: “It gives us great pleasure to welcome the JRFU and UAR who will join the Kings from South Africa as Super Rugby prepares to expand into a bold and exciting new era. As top 10 ranked rugby nations with established high performance level leagues and over 100,000 players each, there is no doubt as to Japan and Argentina's rugby readiness and passion for the sport.
“With a heritage stretching back some 115 years, Japan also offers tremendous infrastructure and an active fan base that we view as pivotal to the ongoing sustainability of the team. Japan has also been the focus of strategic investment by the International Rugby Board (now World Rugby) and we view the region as a high growth, high potential sports and economic market with the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the 2020 Olympic Games and now Super Rugby on the imminent horizon.”
The confirmation is the final stage of formalities and paves the way for the Tokyo and Buenos Aires-based franchises to start contracting players and staff. Sanzar announced in July that bids from Japan and Singapore would compete to land the final expansion slot for Super Rugby. The tournament currently features five teams each from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, but will expand to 18 teams from 2016 through the addition of new clubs from Argentina, South Africa and Japan.
The JRFU had been bidding against Singapore for the 18th team, but Sanzar last month informed the Japanese union that it was the “preferred candidate”. Sanzar has said the Japanese team will be based at Tokyo's Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Stadium, but will play three home games per season at the Singapore Sports Hub.
Both the Japanese and Argentine teams will play in Super Rugby’s South African Group and will be positioned in opposing conferences. The final composition of these conferences is subject to approval by the South African Rugby Union (SARU). Travel times had been cited as a concern for a potential Japanese franchise, with 10-hour flight times for teams coming from Johannesburg to Singapore, and Tokyo another eight hours by air from the city-state.
Tatsuzo Yabe, chairman of the JRFU, said: “It is absolutely essential for us to participate in the competition as we move toward a successful Rugby World Cup here in 2019. Joining the world’s highest international league is a challenge that will require significant transformation and tremendous efforts by us. However, it will certainly bring innovation to not only Japan, but also the Asian region as a whole.
“We are also convinced that participating in Super Rugby will encourage greater interest in our domestic rugby and it will become a big dream and goal for those who play rugby in Japan – especially younger generations – to compete at this level. We believe that such positive development will be a driving force for Japan rugby to move forward on the world stage and we will continue to make every endeavour to be successful at this level as we look toward Super Rugby in 2016, the 2019 Rugby World Cup and beyond.”
World Rugby Council member for Argentina, Agustin Pichot, added: “Since we started with this project of insertion in the game’s elite, at the end of 2007, it was crucial to have regular competition for our players. Playing in the Rugby Championship was crucial for this process but we still needed this final and key step of having an Argentine franchise in the world’s top tournament, Super Rugby. With this, we now complete the pathway for Argentine players from grassroots to the professional game. Entry to Super Rugby will give our top players an incredible opportunity to grow and our fans the chance to enjoy an Argentine side playing against the best players in the world for more than half a year every season for at least five years.”
Australia’s New South Wales Waratahs are the reigning Super Rugby champions having defeated New Zealand’s Crusaders 33-32 in the 2014 final.