"SANZAAR was advised by the Japan Rugby Football Union in early March that they would no longer be in a position to financially underwrite the Sunwolves' future participation post 2020," CEO Andy Marinos

Sunwolves looks dejected at the final whistle during a Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Sunwolves in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, March 9, 2019.
Sunwolves looks dejected at the final whistle during a Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Sunwolves in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, March 9, 2019. (AP)

Japan's Sunwolves will be axed from Super Rugby as the tournament returns to 14 teams from 2021, governing body SANZAAR said on Friday, saying the team was not financially viable.

"SANZAAR was advised by the Japan Rugby Football Union in early March that they would no longer be in a position to financially underwrite the Sunwolves' future participation post 2020," CEO Andy Marinos said in a statement.

Australian media on Wednesday suggested that the competition will become a 14-team, single division tournament. 

Currently there are three five-team conferences, forcing at least one team to have a bye each weekend.

The Sunwolves have won only seven of their 43 matches since joining the competition in 2016.

The Australian newspaper, citing a Sunwolves spokesperson, said the team had objected to a request from SANZAAR to pay a Super Rugby participation fee, which is not asked of any of the other franchises.

The Sunwolves, fourth in the five-team Australian conference after losing four of their five games this season, joined Super Rugby along with South Africa's Southern Kings and Argentina's Jaguares when the competition expanded from 15 to 18 teams in 2016.

The Japanese franchise retained its spot when the tournament was reduced to 15 teams last year after the expanded format proved unpopular with fans and broadcasters. 

Then, the Kings and Cheetahs from South Africa and the Western Force from Perth, Australia were cut.

SANZAAR has been criticised, based on its hope for increased television revenue, for expanding the original Super 12 tournament in the first place, from 14 to 15 teams in 2011, to 18 in 2016, back to 15 in 2018 and now reportedly back to 14 next year.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies