TOKYO (Reuters) - With their very Super Rugby existence hanging in the balance, the Sunwolves have called upon their fans to send a message to governing body SANZAAR, which is likely to discuss whether to drop the Tokyo-based team from the competition.
SANZAAR, the organisers of the elite competition, is set to discuss the future of Super Rugby at World Rugby meetings in Dublin this week amid reports that the Sunwolves, who were added to the competition in 2016, could be culled.
The club have called on fans to write their messages of support on a giant Sunwolves jersey during Saturday’s home game against the Queensland Reds.
“We wish all of you to join our tough and unforeseeable journey with the team and players who make the future of Japan Rugby,” the Sunwolves wrote in a statement on their website.
The team also stressed that victories on the field will “show the meaning of Sunwolves in the Super Rugby.”
The Sunwolves have impressed so far this season despite only one win from their opening four games.
As well as their victory over the twice former champions Waikato Chiefs in week three, their first away win in Super Rugby, they lost to the New South Wales Waratahs by just a point and could have beaten the Auckland Blues last week were it not for poor discipline.
A win over the Reds, who have failed to win this season, on Saturday would go a long way in proving the Sunwolves deserve their place.
With Japan hosting the Rugby World Cup later this year, a move heralded by World Rugby as an indicator of the growth of the game, expelling the Sunwolves from Super Rugby would appear contradictory.
“The Sunwolves have really helped to develop rugby fans in Japan, in terms of cheering for a team they actually feel a part of,” Kyodo News’ rugby journalist Rich Freeman told Reuters on Thursday.
“If you are going to have a huge increase in the number of fans because of the World Cup, what is going to happen when there is no Sunwolves? Where are they going to go?”
Since the Sunwolves entered Super Rugby, Japan have recorded comfortable victories over Italy and Tonga, as well as drawing with France in Paris.
“You need regular competition to perform at the highest level,” said Freeman.
“One of the things the Japanese team has improved on is the mental approach of the game because they have to get up week-in and week-out to perform at that level.”
“(Japan captain) Michael Leitch has said that drawing with France in Paris... a lot of that is down to the players playing hard games week-in and week-out.”
The Sunwolves crushed the Reds 63-28 on the Australian side’s last visit to Tokyo and come into Saturday’s fixture as the favourites.
The Reds are without Wallabies internationals Taniela Tupou and Izack Rodda, who are rested in accordance with Rugby Australia’s workload management policy.
Isaac Lucas comes in at flyhalf for the injured Bryce Hegarty as Brad Thorn’s side look to arrest a decline that has seen them lose their last eight Super Rugby matches away from home.
The Sunwolves have also made a change at flyhalf, bringing Hayden Parker, who missed a late drop goal that would have won the Waratahs match, back into the starting lineup.
Amanaki Mafi, who is still fighting assault charges in New Zealand, has been named on the bench for the Japanese side and his return is seen as the first step in securing a place in the Brave Blossoms squad for the World Cup.
Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty