Singapore has leapt to the front of the queue as the favourite to be the 18th Vodacom Super Rugby franchise from 2016 if reports are to be believed.
According to the supersport.com website, it would always have been an ambitious task to try and find a new franchise from a developing rugby nation to play in the toughest franchise competition in the world, but while Sanzar are yet to make any announcements on who will join the six South African franchises and an Argentinean team in the new competition, reports from Australia say that the South African Rugby Union are already flexing their muscles in this regard.
SARU had a set of unwavering principles for the expansion of Super Rugby. It had a mandate to get the Southern Kings into the competition, organise less of a travel burden for teams and a better financial deal for South African rugby.
But while Australia has been pushing hard to extend its Asian influence and get a team from Japan into the competition, it has reportedly met with a brick wall from SARU as to their participation.
Singapore has proposed a team called the Asia Pacific Dragons – a team made up of local players blended with a heavy Pacific Island influence with former All Black Tana Umaga mentioned as their possible coach.
The problem for Sanzar is that while Japan may be a more viable team, logistics kill off their bid – especially with no direct flight to Tokyo and given that South African franchises will have to make the trip to the Far East, it could take up to 23 hours to get a team into the land of the Rising Sun.
That will significantly increase the travel burden on South African teams, who have by far the worst travelling burden of all teams in Super Rugby.
Singapore, on the other hand, is an 11 hour flight, but there are also question marks whether the 18th franchise simply needs to become a feeder for Australia and New Zealand, who regularly lure Pacific Island players to their shores.
Plus the other massive question that Sanzar itself put as a pre-requisite is that any team needed to be made up of local players so not to be “mercenaries”.
Current Japanese coach Eddie Jones said in his column in Australian newspapers that Sanzar “will lose all credibility” if they award the team to Singapore.
“It is 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.”
“If travel is the deciding factor then Dubai should be selected and rugby ethos and history ignored altogether.”
“Enough of that nonsense. Rugby has had a footprint in Japan since 1899 … and there are more than 100 000 players and 3500 clubs in the country. ”
“Japan has become the first Asian nation to reach 10th in the world and the Rugby World Cup is heading here in 2019.”
Jones said that he was “not being biased as Japan’s coach but any smart organisation should see the value of promoting Japan as an expansion team in Super 18.”
“Through their TV rights clout, South Africa are pushing the Singapore bid where rugby is linked to the gin-and-tonic set at the Singapore Cricket Club and no players.”
“They would play in a grand new stadium but every player in a Singapore-based team would be an import.”
“Consider this. Japan recently beat Sri Lanka 132-10 and Singapore are ranked 10 spots lower than them at No 58 in the world,” said Jones.
Sanzar could make the announcement of the new team by September, but initially there was also interest from America to have a franchise in the competition.