Japan tipped to be 18th Super Rugby team

Japan have been tipped to be awarded the 18th Super Rugby franchise when the tournament expands in 2016 to include a sixth South African and a team from Argentina.

Super Rugby organizers SANZAR recently confirmed that the tournament would expand by three teams in 2016 and the the 18th team would be an Asian team and that it would play in the South African group.

SANZAR added that the Asian team would either be from Japan or Singapore who have recently built a new 50 000 seater stadium.

Rugby bosses from the nations that make up SANZAR recently inspected Japan and Singapore’s bids and initially the momentum appeared to have swung in Singapore’s favour.

There are no direct flights from Johannesburg in South Africa to Japan while there is an 11 hour flight to Singapore which makes travel for the teams considerably more difficult if Japan win.

Although Singapore appeared to be the early favourites it now seems that representatives from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have gone cold on the city and are now favouring Japan.

Japan are a much stronger rugby nation and will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

SANZAR are expected to make the announcement on who will win the 18th franchise sometime in the coming month in order to give the team as much time as possible to prepare.

“It’s like the Melbourne Cup mate. It’s a long straight,” Japanese national coach Eddie Jones told The Daily Telegraph.

“It doesn’t matter who is in front at the rise. You have to be in front at the post.”

The Singapore bid has a strong Pacific Islands flavour to it as the team could be coached by Tana Umaga and bankrolled by Samoa Water owner Eric Series.

However the tender process is understood to have exposed doubts over the financial viability and some members of SANZAR fear that they may have to step in at some point and underwrite the franchise.

As travel appears to be Japan’s biggest stumbling block they have proposed that they could play some of their matches in Asian cities that are closer to South Africa including Singapore and Hong Kong.

“What we would like to think is if we do become the (18th) team, we become the team that represents Asian rugby, so there are a lot of opportunities to play games within Asia, which obviously cuts down the travel,” Jones said.

“There are always other places to play games. There is no reason why we have to play every game in Japan. So that’s a possible solution, to go a little bit closer and decrease the travel for teams coming to Japan. That’s a possibility.

“We could potentially play in Singapore and Hong Kong, they’re all opportunities. I am sure from South Africa you can get a direct flight to Hong Kong.”

Direct flights travel from South Africa’s main travel hub Johannesburg to Singapore take 10 hours while flights to Hong Kong take 13 hours.

Japan have their own tournament and large corporations own the teams giving them a large playing pool to draw from. Jones said that Japan’s ability to field a competitive team straight away was an advantage they have over Singapore.

“When you consider the foreign players that are already here, you can mix a few of those good foreign players with the Japan national team, which is now tenth in the world, and it is a team that can be immediately competitive. That’s the strength of us,” Jones said.

“We are a proper rugby nation, albeit small by world standards. We have a proper domestic league and existing pathways. 500 universities play rugby here. “

“We are the fourth biggest rugby playing population in the world, so all those things have got to help.”

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