Australian concerns over Sunwolves' demise

Waratahs centre Kurtley Beale (R) runs with the ball during the Super Rugby round 2 match between the Sunwolves and Waratahs. MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images

Australian Super Rugby franchises have expressed concern that the sounding of the death knell on the Sunwolves could lead to less matches and a further downturn in interest in the game.

NSW coach Daryl Gibson fears the Waratahs will lose games if, as expected, the Tokyo-based Sunwolves are cut when SANZAAR makes an announcement on the future of the competition on Friday.

"We need rugby. That's the important thing," Gibson said amid speculation the competition to revert to 14 teams from 2021 after the current broadcast deal expires next year.

A 14-team competition would likely result in a return to a round-robin format, also marking the end of the unpopular conference system.

But such a development would also mean the Waratahs - and all other teams - would only play 14 games during the home-and-away campaign, rather than the 16 they'll play this season.

"It's hard to say what the format's is going to be. Is it going to be a round robin, is it going to be biannual home and away, who knows?," Gibson said.

"It's certainly been a big issue for the competition in making sure the format is correct and that we do have a format where you're not away from your home base for, say, four or five weeks on end."

That will be the case this year when the Waratahs go four weeks between home games during a three-game spell in South Africa and Queensland.

Gibson said NSW Rugby had always supported the Sunwolves inclusion in the competition and would like the states to have more of a say in the running of the tournament.

Having played the Sunwolves in Tokyo three weeks ago, he felt Japanese rugby fans had embraced the expansion franchise.

"They're getting excellent support," Gibson said.

"The crowd numbers have probably gone through that period where you've got an expansion team trying to forge a new market."

Brumbies captain Christian Lealiifano said it would be disappointing to see the Sunwolves cut.

"It's never nice to hear that a team is going to be axed," he said.

"You're always wanting to be growing our game, not only in our country, but globally.

"I think they've been a team that has been continually growing and being a threat in this competition. They're not easybeats anymore.

"We already cut the Western Force and it's hurt us a bit in this country."

SANZAAR said in a statement on Wednesday it would make an announcement on the future format of Super Rugby on Friday at 2pm (AEDT).