CEO Jurie Roux has responded to coach Tony Brown’s accusations that SA Rugby played a role in excluding the Sunwolves from Vodacom Super Rugby. DYLAN JACK reports.
2020 was the Sunwolves’ final Super Rugby season after Sanzaar made a collective decision to leave the team out of future seasons, which returned the competition to 14 teams.
The suspension in the season due to the Covid-19 pandemic meant that Sunwolves’ participation was prematurely cut. The Japanese team then suffered a further blow when its proposed involvement in the Australian domestic Super Rugby spin-off tournament fell through.
Brown, who is currently an assistant coach at the Highlanders but served as both an assistant and head coach at the Sunwolves in 2018 and 2019, recently rehashed his accusation that the Sunwolves were targeted after Japan voted for France, rather than South Africa, in a closely fought race to stage the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
When asked about Brown’s comments in a digital media conference on Monday, Roux said that the decision was based solely on commercial reasons as the Japan Rugby Football Union did not guarantee payment for the team’s financial losses.
‘In the first instance, even though I back myself, I would be very surprised if I was able to get the Sunwolves chucked out on my own,’ Roux said.
‘The reality about the Sunwolves is that we had a look at Super Rugby about a year ago. We had to come up with a new format. It was very clear that the pool format was not the preferred choice. We had to come up with a competition that could be held on a round-robin basis where everybody plays everybody. For that to be able to happen, it had to make commercial sense.
‘The real reason why the Sunwolves are not in it – and which probably out of politeness people have steered away from – is purely based on the fact that the JPRFU refused to underwrite their team like each and every one of us. So there is a certain number that you have to put down. The broadcasting money and things don’t materialise, then that number becomes payable and liable and you have to stand in for it.
‘That should answer why we can’t just chuck a team out of Super Rugby. It doesn’t work like that. You have underwritten a certain commercial value. Anything that you deliver, that is not within that commercial value, you as a union stand in for. That is what you sign up for. The JPRFU had every opportunity to sign that agreement, but did not. Based on that, at that moment we had to make a decision.
‘Post that, they have come and said that they were now willing to do it, but by that time we had already started negotiating with the broadcasters. They also indicated that they don’t see any commercial value in the Sunwolves playing in Singapore, Hong Kong or Tokyo because of the time differences among other things.
‘It was very much a commercial decision and not because of anything else. I like Tony Brown quite a bit. He is an exceptional coach and did a great job with Japan. He will probably have to knock on the door of the Japanese Federation and ask why they didn’t send a cheque. If they did, none of this would have been an issue.’
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