Japan's national competition could be compromised by Super Rugby expansion plans, Blues coach Sir John Kirwan has warned.
The 16-team Top League has long formed the backbone of Japanese rugby and Kirwan believes that setting up a Super Rugby franchise in the country could jeopardise those teams.
Japan has made huge headway in recent times. Under former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, the Brave Blossoms are riding an eight-test winning streak that includes historic victories over a second-string Wales outfit last year, and a triumph over Samoa.
Japan sit 10th in the world rankings, ahead of Fiji, Argentina, Tonga and Italy, and will host the World Cup in 2019. Much of their development can be attributed to the local competition, which now features a host of former All Blacks and global stars.
Japan and Singapore have lodged official bids to host Super Rugby's 18th team from 2016 and Kirwan, who coached the national team from 2007 to '11, stressed the need for the local competition to be protected.
"The most important thing for Japan is they keep their competition going," he said. "I wouldn't like it to turn into a one-franchise country. You've got to keep the big companies involved. Otherwise, the teams will slowly die off like club rugby here has and like the NPC is. We've got to make sure there is a pathway for the established teams to get the franchise.
"My concerns are you've got a rugby market up there that's important to the global game. They have 20 multi-national companies investing in our game. You make one franchise in Tokyo and don't give them the opportunity to succeed, will they stop sponsoring the game?
"You wouldn't want to take that money out of the global game. There's some real strategic decisions that Sanzar needs to make." South Africa's influence and concern around travel has established Singapore as the early favourite destination, though Australia have supported Japan in early Sanzar discussions.
Kirwan has dealt with organisers of the Singapore bid, as the Blues won a recent 10s tournament there.
"I know the people that are behind Singapore. They've got a great vision," Kirwan said. "It's better from a travel point of view for everyone.
"This has probably been the best Super Rugby competition for a long time. The Aussies have sorted their stuff out; their player pool is getting bigger so they can have competitive franchises. So if we expand we can't afford for that to be to the detriment of the competition. Whoever gets it, they need the help of Sanzar to be competitive from year one."
- Sunday News
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