Wellington - Japan may one day be considered for inclusion
in the Rugby Championship but the current focus is on improving the
competitiveness of the Tokyo-based Sunwolves in Super Rugby, New Zealand's
Steve Tew has said.
With Japan hosting Asia's first World Cup in 2019, World
Rugby vice chairman Agustin Pichot has been vocal about expanding the
opportunities for second-tier countries in a bid to grow the game globally.
However, while New Zealand Rugby (NZR) Chief Executive Tew
recognised Japan would benefit from regular competition, he said it was too
soon to talk about them joining the All Blacks, Australia, South Africa and
Argentina in the Rugby Championship.
"At some stage Japan being considered for the Rugby
Championship would be on the table but, clearly, that has to come at a time
when they were able to compete," he told the New Zealand Herald on
"Right now SANZAAR is focused on ensuring the Sunwolves
can compete in Super Rugby. That's the first step, and they've clearly got a
way to go."
The Sunwolves were introduced into Super Rugby last year
when it was expanded to 18 teams and have struggled to get to grips with the
intense competition, winning just three of 30 games in two seasons so far.
SANZAAR has decided to reduce the competition to 15 sides
from next year, with an Australian and two South African teams being axed, but
the Sunwolves are safe until at least 2020.
The Sunwolves ended this season on a high by thumping the
Auckland Blues 48-21 for their first win over a New Zealand side, but there has
been little else to smile about.
They endured embarrassing defeats to the Wellington
Hurricanes (83-17) and Lions (94-7) and conceded 671 points in their 15 regular
season matches, finishing 2-13 for the season.
The Sunwolves are also hampered by contract issues.
Many of their players are contracted to top domestic clubs
in Japan where the season does not end until February, meaning the Sunwolves
have less time to work with their players in pre-season, which greatly affects
their Super Rugby preparations.
Tew said that while Japan, who shocked South Africa 34-32 at
the last World Cup, would become part of the conversation about potential
expansion of the Rugby Championship, he added that other sides in North America
and the South Pacific could also be considered.
"Their entry into a regular competition is a matter of
time but ... it's not just Japan we need to be taking into account," Tew
"We've got USA and Canada; Georgia in Europe and so how
do you find regular competition for those teams to develop and be truly
credible threats at Rugby World Cup? That's the challenge for World Rugby.
"If we're going to expand in this part of the world the
Pacific Islands are a consideration but they have to come back and prove its
right for them and the competition."