Rugby Champs ex­pan­sion

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

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 yes­ter­day.

“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 and have strug­gled, win­ning just three of 30 games in two sea­sons so far.

SANZAAR will re­duce the com­pe­ti­tion to 15 sides from next year, 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 15 matches, fin­ish­ing 2-13 for the sea­son.

The Sun­wolves are also ham­pered by con­tract is­sues.

Many of their play­ers are con­tracted to 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 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 said.

“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.” WELLING­TON: The Cru­saders are tak­ing a cau­tious ap­proach to to­mor­row’s all-New Zealand Su­per Rugby semi-fi­nal against the Chiefs, de­spite their op­po­nents hav­ing made the trek back from South Africa this week.

The long-haul trip from Aus­trala­sia to Africa and back has al­most al­ways proved fa­tal come the play­offs, but the Chiefs have be­come some­thing of a bo­gey team for the Cru­saders in the nine years since the seven-times cham­pi­ons last won the ti­tle.

So while a 14-1 reg­u­lar sea­son record makes the Cru­saders strong favourites to progress to a fi­nal against the

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