That the Sunwolves are axed from Super Rugby is sour enough, but forcing them to play through 2020 is aimless.
They were brought into the competition for the 2016-20 broadcast deal, in the build up to the World Cup, but now they’ll be cut after next year, making the season completely pointless for the Tokyo-based team.
The idea behind their inclusion was clear enough: put regular top-level rugby in front of fans, sponsors and networks, and creating a buzz ahead of the World Cup in Japan.
Certainly on the spectator side of things, they’ve done just that, attracting some of Super Rugby’s biggest crowds for their Tokyo home games.
Prior to the axing, they’d thrashed the Chiefs in Hamilton and almost beat the Waratahs, Reds and Blues.
But since the organising body announced their removal from the competition, the campaign has gone downhill.
They snuck past NSW in Newcastle, but were obliterated by the Highlanders, 52-0, Brumbies, 33-0, and Rebels 52-7. And their for-and-against has plummeted from -42 to -235.
It’d be of some concern that their last three games have ended in 30+ losses, but then again it’s to be expected for a team who’s just been axed, and has struggled perennially.
SANZAAR and the Japan Rugby Football Union have indicated they don’t want them in the competition, so instead of delaying the inevitable, the Japanese club should now be removed.
We only have to go back two years when the governing bodies removed the Force, Kings and Cheetahs within this same broadcast deal. Surely cutting one more team would be much less hassle.
Certainly for networks, axing three clubs drastically reduced the number of games per week: a maximum of nine fell to a maximum of seven. But this move won’t even do that. Currently on an average weekend, 14 teams play seven games, while one side has a bye.
Once this happens, 14 teams will continue to play the same amount of matches, but no team will have to sit out any week, which is especially important in the final rounds, when every team wants an equal chance to reach the playoffs.
If the Japanese team was racking up big viewing numbers, there’s an argument to keep them in for the remainder of this broadcast deal – but they’re not, certainly not in Australia anyway – and that same argument didn’t have any weight when deciding whether or not to keep them in the comp on a whole.
There’s no incentive for players to perform – even should they defy all critics and win next year’s competition, they’d be terminated anyway, so why bother?
This is in direct contrast to the Jaguares. While they’re hardly without criticism, they almost snuck into the playoffs in just their second season, making their first appearance last year. This year, they’ve finished second, and will host a quarter-final.
Their last-placed finish this year dismisses any theories about them improving, and anyone who was quietly confident of them playing finals has had their hopes quashed. Indeed, flair and entertainment value aside, they’ve been a disappointment since their induction.
Given all that, does anyone expect them to set the world on fire in a season where their future is predestined? Or do we know that, with no incentive to perform, and no enthusiasm from the JRFU, the Sunwolves will be the whipping boys once again.
SANZAAR and the JRFU have already killed the horse, so they shouldn’t flog it now.