Japan favourites in Super Rugby race

Sanzar looks set to hand Japan the 18th Super Rugby franchise ahead of Singapore after both teams concluded the bidding process.

The two Asian nations submitted tenders to become one of three new Super Rugby franchises, along with the EP Kings and an Argentinian side. Sanzar bosses have spent the last month conducting a tour of each country in a bid to establish which of the two could support a sustainable and competitive franchise come 2016.

Rugby structures, infrastructure, heritage and travel requirements have all been taken into account.

With the Asian team set to compete in the South African conference of the new format, Saru is said to back the bid from Singapore to cut down on what is already an intensive travel schedule. With no direct flights to Japan from South Africa, it can take upwards of 24 hours to reach the Land of the Rising Sun, as opposed to a 10-hour flight to Singapore.

The Japanese bid has moved to allay these fears, with current national coach Eddie Jones speaking of a possible solution to these problems.

'What we would like to think is if we do become the [18th] team, we become the team that represents Asian rugby,' Jones told The Daily Telegraph from Tokyo. 'There are a lot of opportunities to play games within Asia, which obviously cuts down the travel.

'There is no reason why we have to play every game in Japan. We could potentially play in Singapore and Hong Kong.'

The Singapore franchise would likely consist of players from the Pacific Islands and would be coached by former All Blacks centre Tana Umaga. They would also make use of a newly-built 50,000-seater stadium.

However, Japan will boast a competitive team made up of players from the current Japan Top League. With the funding and support of their national union, the Japanese franchise would be able to leverage the current structures in order to attract foreign players.

'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 10th in the world, and it is a team that can be immediately competitive,' said Jones.

'We are a proper rugby nation, albeit small by world standards. We have a proper domestic league and existing pathways. Five hundred universities play rugby here. We are the fourth biggest rugby playing population in the world, so all those things have got to help.'

The decision on the final Super Rugby franchise is expected to be made next month.

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