NSW Rugby CEO Andrew Hore has encouraged SANZAAR to retain the Sunwolves in Super Rugby as the joint venture partners met in Dublin overnight.
The future of the Sunwolves has reportedly been under question as SANZAAR’s bosses continue to debate the format of Super Rugby in the next broadcast deal, starting in 2021.
SANZAAR’s executive met in Dublin over the weekend to continue those talks, ahead of Thursday’s World Rugby meeting around the proposed World League, set to kick off in 2022.
All of Australia’s Super Rugby franchises have sponsorship arrangements with Japan and both the Brumbies and Waratahs travelling to Japan for showcase matches in the past two years.
The Rebels recently signed a partnership with the Sunwolves, with the Japanese side visiting Melbourne to train against the Aussies.
While Hore said NSW Rugby weren’t concerned about commercial backlash in the absence of a Japanese franchise per se, but rather felt their presence presented a crucial chance for Australian rugby to benefit financially as well.
“It's not so much repercussions but opportunity, we want to maximise opportunity,” he said.
“We're a global game, not kicking around in a tiddly wink competition like the NRL that's only played in this part of the world, we're a global sport.
“And so, ultimately that means there's opportunity for global revenue and that now that we're one Waratahs and NSW means that we can feed the game using that commercial revenue.
“That's our biggest opportunity with Japan. Any new territories hold opportunities.”
It is believed that South Africa are the biggest opponent to a Japanese side, concerned about the travel load for their players in the current competition.
Hore said he hoped there was some middle ground able to be reached, but that the teams were ultimately at the behest of the SANZAAR partners.
"You can't comment not being in the room, you can only hope that a decision, might even have to be a compromise, is reached so that we can do what we need to do.
"It doesn't mean, you might do everything from blowing it up to adhering to what they want to a middle ground, isn't it? That's their job in the room to sort it out."
Hore admitted that there had to be a balance between commercial revenue and the quality of competition but pointed to the Sunwolves’ apparent improvement in 2019 as a reason for patience.
“We've always said our issues are more around the governance model which allows the competition to thrive no matter where you have a team,” he said.
“Sixty-two per cent of respondents that were surveyed said they wanted close fixtures.
You could play it on the moon and if it's a good fixture people want to watch it. So, it's how do we create a competition like when we had Super 12 that has that balance.
“I think Jamie's (Japan director of rugby Jamie Joseph) done a great job this year with the Sunwolves, they're going toe to toe home and away aren't they? And so, like Super W, you've just got to sometimes give things time.”
“We're excited by the Japanese and we enjoy going up there but there's a lot of things they need to consider.”
Hore reiterated his support for a commission-style governance model that gave Super Rugby teams a seat at the table.
“There's discussions always ongoing in and around the various aspects of Super Rugby from laws to governance and so I think we've just got to keep talking and I think there's opportunities coming with these milestones around broadcasting that opens the door for more discussion," he said.
Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle was not commenting publicly on the latest SANZAAR meeting but last month reinforced Australia’s support for the Japanese side.
“We see enormous value in the Japanese market,” she said.
“There's not that many countries in the world that have an interest in rugby and are in the top four economies in the world so that for us, to make sure we take a base that's established, they've got player development systems and structures in place.
“To help them grow and develop to become competitive on the world stage is an important part of what we see SANZAAR's role in and Rugby Australia supporting that.
“We saw the success of that happening with Argentina so bringing Argentina into Super Rugby and the improvement that they've had on the world stage with their international team with the Pumas because of that so we see there's that same opportunity with Japan.”