Japan boost Super Rugby bid
Singapore - Japan appear to have moved ahead in the race to become the 18th Super Rugby side by offering to host matches at the home of rivals bidders Singapore to negate concerns about long travel times from South Africa.
The considerably longer journey was believed to be Japan's main stumbling block in their bid to edge out Singapore and join the Southern Hemisphere competition in 2016 along with South Africa's Southern Kings and an Argentine based team.
The 18th side would be pooled in one of two African conferences meaning 10 hour flight times for teams coming from Johannesburg to Singapore, with Tokyo another eight hours by air from the citystate.
In July, competition organisers SANZAR said geographic location was among the key criteria when shortlisting the two Asian bids.
On Wednesday, South African Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins told reporters that Japan's bid proposal had been changed to include Singapore as a host for some of the matches.
It is understood Singapore would host up to four matches at their 55 000 seat, retractable roof National Stadium for the Japanese team, although the format and number of games in the 2016 season is yet to be determined.
Singapore Rugby Union President Low Teo Ping denied reports that Hong Kong were in the mix to stage some matches.
"Hong Kong is not part of the equation," Low said, before shying away from questions about his confidence of Singapore's chances of winning the SANZAR vote.
"We are supporting one bid, but we are the venue for the other bid so it doesn't matter."
The new shared deal and coyness of Low suggests Japan are strong favourites to join the current 15 team tournament for franchise sides from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand which has steadily grown from 12 teams in 1996.
Japan boast a burgeoning domestic league able to attract the stars of world rugby, while the national team has competed at every World Cup and scored recent wins over top tier nations Wales and Italy.
Singapore's bid is to have the Asian Pacific Dragons, a team made up of mainly Pacific Islanders backed financially by the chairman of Samoa Water Eric Series, compete at the centre piece of their new $1 billion Sports Hub.
The side has played in invitational tournaments in the region and often drafted in former New Zealand captain Tana Umaga to coach them but questions have been raised about being able to secure the long term availability of players contracted to other clubs.
Singapore's lowly standard in world rugby, with no professional league and a mainly expatriate side playing in low tier competition in the region has also been flagged.
"A joke that Singapore is even being considered as the base for the 18th Super Rugby team when Japan ticks all the right boxes for forward thinking," Japan boss and former Australia coach Eddie Jones said previously.
Hoskins, though, said the race between the two remained neck-and-neck.
"They have put forward their proposals, they are really both attractive," the South African said.
"I wish I could tell you which way SANZAR is going to go but right now SANZAR has not decided.
"SANZAR is considering it quite diligently. It's very much under discussion, serious discussion."