The Super Rugby side we (mercifully) won't see again

Rob Houwing (File)
Rob Houwing (File)

So long, then, Sunwolves ... it was nice, though that’s putting it extremely diplomatically, to have known you.

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On the increasingly safe assumption that Super Rugby 2020 won’t see any further light of day, we have witnessed the last of the Japan-based franchise, who were due to disband after the current season anyway.

Sanzaar chiefs said at the coronavirus-related shutdown - after round seven - that little more than four weeks would feasibly be able to go by if there was to be any chance of a resumption of hostilities.

Two of those dormant ones have already drifted by, with not the slightest sign of any teams getting back into battle-readiness mode.

Instead, expectation only grows that major professional sport planet-wide is unlikely to resurface until possibly mid-June at the earliest; exactly when the Super Rugby final (June 20) had been diarised for.

Many devotees and observers of the competition will be reluctantly turning their thoughts instead to a start with a clean slate, you would think, in early 2021.

All we already know for next year’s competition is that the Sunwolves won’t be a part of it, after what has amounted to some four and a half years of well less than luminary participation, as the competition returns to a round-robin formula and 14 teams.

Their fate was officially sealed a few weeks into the 2019 season, which really only deeply aggravated – considering the inevitable, demoralising effect -- their battle to become an acceptably competitive unit.

Meant to showcase Japan’s rise as a global international force (at least as far as their national team is concerned), the Sunwolves laboured from the start by not exactly being considered flavour of the month among Japanese Top League franchises bosses.

Ever-increasingly, the cream of the country’s players gave wide berths to any Sunwolves involvement, to the point that in its closing days the team became primarily a motley-looking, temporary refuge for various - with respect - “leftover” players not signed up, for example, by Australian or South African Super Rugby teams.

But the Sunwolves have also been, frankly, a liability from start to virtually certain finish, and only a reflection of how damaging it was to fiddle with Super Rugby’s legitimacy - already questioned for various other, often structure-related reasons - in recent times by diluting any strength-versus-strength feel to it.

It just never felt right that a lone team from the northern hemisphere was almost arbitrarily latched on in 2016, adding to the already fatiguing geographical spread of the competition but also, ironically, helping seal the fate of that usually spirited, pretty well-supported franchise in Western Australia, the Force.

South African teams were generally fairly happy to either start or end their Australasian tours with a game in Perth, considering its “little SA” feel due to the number of expats there and closer proximity to home shores from a time-zones point of view.

Playing the Sunwolves away usually meant either a gruelling trek to Tokyo - where at least some good crowds were recorded, more often than not - or to steamy Singapore, for a notably more soulless encounter before the proverbial three men and a dog in the ‘Wolves supposed second home.

The Sunwolves, assuming their Super Rugby chapter has now shut, will finish with some strikingly inept statistics, even if they were occasionally capable of engineering the odd upset result against some of the lesser modern lights in the competition.

They have played a total of 70 matches to this point, with nine victories to show - a flimsy strike rate of 12.85 percent.

The best record they could manage on that front was in 2018, when they earned three wins from 16 outings, although still not enough to ensure that could avoid last-placed finish overall.

Earning the wooden spoon has been their dubious “achievement” in all but the 2017 campaign, when they just held off the Melbourne Rebels who instead posted the unwanted landmark.

When the current campaign was suspended (one win from six), they were again propping up the table, a point shy of the nearest Waratahs and Lions.

Every season, too, their points differential has been gory, a reflection of some of the drubbings they’ve received: minus 334 in 2016, minus 356 in 2017, minus 260 in 2018, minus 290 in 2019 and already minus 191 in 2020 ahead of the halfway mark.

Just as this year’s competition, in all likelihood, will as a whole, the Sunwolves are set to die with a whimper.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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