Japan Super Rugby spot under threat?

Date published: August 26 2015

With no coach and hardly any players contracted for next year, Japan's entry into Super Rugby could be under threat.

A Japanese side is set to join one from Argentina and South Africa's Kings in a new-look 18-team competition in 2016.

But progress in setting up the Japanese team has been worryingly slow and is clearly behind schedule, with just two players signed up so far.

SANZAR officials visited the 2019 Rugby World Cup hosts earlier this month and raised concerns that suggest a delay in their entry into Super Rugby could be possible.

Sydney's Daily Telegraph is reporting that contingency plans have been drawn up that involve running a 17-team or even a 16-team format – with just the Argentina side added.

Japanese national team coach Eddie Jones, who has also been acting in the role of director of rugby for the country's Super Rugby franchise, confirmed earlier this week that he would not renew his contract after the Rugby World Cup. 

"People assumed that as I had been named the director of the new Super Rugby side I would stay on. But that was just an administrative role not a coaching role. All I was doing was helping get it set up," said Jones, who is believed to be the next head coach of the Stormers in South Africa. 

At the root of the problems with recruiting lies a struggle between the company-based Japanese clubs and the national union, with who will pay player's salaries a sticking point. The JRFU had reportedly been banking on the clubs continuing to pay the bulk of the salaries of the players that will hopefully feature in Super Rugby, which sits in between Top League seasons, but the clubs have pushed back on that idea.

"I don't think it is any shock to anybody… that some of the progress [in Japan} isn't as fast as some of the other teams. That's no secret," SANZAR interim CEO Brendan Morris told to the Daily Telegraph.

"We are currently monitoring that. We are monitoring all three to be honest. With Japan being new they obviously have a fair few more challenges that the other guys haven't had to jump over. 

"Players have a lot of choice, particularly in Japan with the Top League competition. The challenge for them is to offer them an attractive package to the players to be part of the team," explained Morris.

"They are going through those challenges at the moment in it is a little bit like the UK scenario, where the clubs have a bit more cash and a bit more power than the national union. That's the challenge they are finding at the moment, with enticing the players. They will get there. We'd like them to be advanced than what they are but it is what it is, and we are trying to bridge that gap for them."

Morris added SANZAR are "very committed to an 18-team competition" but that "the next couple of weeks are pretty crucial."