SYDNEY - Japan has beaten Singapore as the preferred candidate for Super Rugby's 18th team when the competition expands in 2016, organisers said Friday.
A team from Japan will join the Kings from South Africa's Eastern Cape and a team based in Argentina when Super Rugby expands from its current 15 teams to 18 in 2016.
International Rugby Board chief Brett Gosper said earlier this year that he wanted Japan in because it would help build momentum for when that country hosts the Rugby World Cup in 2019.
"This week's meeting was a significant step in the evolution of Super Rugby," said Greg Peters, the chief executive of the sport's governing body SANZAR.
Peters said both Japan and Singapore had put forward compelling proposals in a competitive tender process and SANZAR looked forward to working with the Japanese Rugby Union to expand what has been a southern hemisphere competition to new fans, territories and commercial markets.
"Following the Executive Committee's decision however, SANZAR will now work exclusively with the JRFU to finalise arrangements for their entry in to Super Rugby, subject to execution of the formal participation agreement," Peters said.
"While ultimately edged out in this instance, Singapore presented a highly attractive bid and we will maintain a positive relationship with an eye to potentially working with them in the future." New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) chief executive Steve Tew had foreshadowed Japan's acceptance by SANZAR earlier Friday.
"The best way to explain this is that Japan have been the preferred option for some time," Tew told reporters in New Zealand.
SANZAR had sought an expanded competition in two years' time based on the key criteria of commercial value, infrastructure, geographic location, rugby readiness and ongoing sustainability.
But SANZAR's decision has raised concerns the extra teams will dilute the competition's playing talent, which will until the 2016 season feature teams exclusively from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.