SANZAAR, the alliance between the South African, New Zealand, Australian and Argentinian rugby unions, has decided to eject the Japanese Sunwolves from Super Rugby when the current broadcast deal expires in 2020. Australia and New Zealand were reportedly in favour of keeping the side in the competition, in order to grow the game in Asia, however South Africa (who generate the most income out of the four) were determined to see them axed in order to reduce the travel demands on their teams.
The Sunwolves are not being financially supported by the Japanese Rugby Union, who are more interested in the internal Japanese competition. This means that they are being subsidised by the SANZAAR unions, and matches against them do not (according to South Africa) generate enough interest to make the broadcasting benefits worth it.
The South African teams already refuse to travel to Tokyo to play, forcing the Sunwolves to play their home games against these sides in Hong Kong and Singapore – generally in timeslots that aren’t friendly to any of the nations involved in Super Rugby. Playing in Tokyo is actually easier for Australian and New Zealand teams because the time zone is the same, and games there against the Sunwolves draw more viewers than away games in South Africa.
The Japanese team have started this season well (by their admittedly low standards) with very tight losses at home against the Reds and Waratahs, and their first ever away win against the Chiefs in New Zealand. Japan is also hosting the Rugby World Cup in 6 months, which makes the timing of the announcement very odd.
Twiggy Forrest and his “Global Rapid Rugby” competition will almost certainly approach the Sunwolves to play in their planned Indo-Pacific tournament, so it is unlikely that the Sunwolves will die out completely. Japan are also likely to join the Rugby Championship if the planned Nations Championship League comes off.