WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Underperforming sides in the southern hemisphere’s revamped Super 15 competition have been told they need to show tangible improvement to help win back fans as the draw for next year’s tournament was released on Thursday.
One of those teams, Japan’s Sunwolves, have also had their governance moved away from the Japan Rugby Football Union to an independent body that will work more closely with tournament organisers SANZAAR, chief executive Andy Marinos said.
“We cannot hide away from the high performance and financial realities of the game in the markets in which we play,” Marinos said in a statement in releasing the draw.
“The teams that have not performed need to start producing a more attractive brand of rugby that re-engages fans, produces competitive results and winning performances.
“We have a great tournament but what is needed now is the talking to be done on the field as enough opinion and perspective has been provided off the field.”
Super Rugby expanded to 18 teams last year with the addition of Argentina’s Jaguares, the Sunwolves and South Africa’s Kings, but organisers were forced to rethink the move amid unrest from fans and broadcasters over its complicated structure.
SANZAAR agreed to dump three teams from the competition for next season, with South Africa’s Cheetahs and Kings leaving to join the Pro14 competition in Europe.
The Australian Rugby Union, however, became embroiled in a public battle with the Western Force and the Melbourne Rebels over the future of both teams throughout the entire season, knowing it needed to dispense with one of them.
The Force were eventually cut after a court battle.
“The tournament was not working with 18 teams,” Marinos added. “The structure was confusing, the outcomes of matches were becoming too predictable and the fans and stakeholders had, through our surveys, voiced their concerns.”
While Australian sides underperformed in the two seasons of Super Rugby, the Jaguares and Sunwolves have also failed to meet expectations with the Argentine side essentially the country’s national team.
They won just four games in their inaugural season and seven this year, but failed to make the playoffs.
The Sunwolves have fared even worse, winning just three matches in total over two seasons and found themselves on the blunt end of 80-point deficits, which undoubtedly prompted SANZAAR to step in.
“In addition to the decisions that were taken around the Australian and South African Conferences, SANZAAR has also been working hard with Japan and the Sunwolves,” Marinos said.
“Their performances over the first two seasons have been disappointing and improvement is required.
“A structural reform has been implemented where responsibility for the Sunwolves will move from the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) to the entity known as Japan Super Rugby Association (JSRA).
“SANZAAR will be taking a more proactive role within its operating structures.”
The new five-team South African conference, which includes the Jaguares, will start the competition on Feb. 17 with the Stormers hosting the Argentine team in Cape Town.
The New Zealand and Australian conference, which now includes the Sunwolves, start the first of their 16 regular season games on Feb. 23 with this year’s champions the Canterbury Crusaders hosting the Waikato Chiefs on Feb. 24.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O'Brien