SINGAPORE - Singapore has effectively conceded it has lost out to Japan to become the 18th Super Rugby side.
Although the South African, New Zealand and Australian Rugby (SANZAR) has not officially announced which Asian country would host the new team in an expanded competition, it has already been widely reported that Japan has won the bid ahead of Singapore.
Singapore's bidders released a statement on Thursday, seemingly acknowledging that Japan had been selected as the winner. "Clearly Japan is a mature, established rugby market, whilst Singapore is new to the global rugby scene," said Eric Series, the financial backer of the proposed Singapore bid. "Consequently, we understand that for an established organisation such as SANZAR, and its three Unions, that there may have been a reluctance to break with tradition." The considerably longer journey was believed to be Japan's main stumbling block in their bid to edge out Singapore and join the Southern Hemisphere competition in 2016 along with South Africa's Southern Kings and an Argentine-based team.
The 18th side would be pooled in one of two African conferences meaning 10 hour flight times for teams coming from Johannesburg to Singapore, with Tokyo another eight hours by air from the citystate.
Japan boast a burgeoning domestic league able to attract the stars of world rugby and have already been selected as the host nation for the 2019 World Cup.
Singapore has no professional league and a mainly expatriate side playing in low tier competition in the region. The bid was to have the Asian Pacific Dragons, a team made up of mainly Pacific Islanders, compete at the centre piece of their new $1 billion Sports Hub. "We would like to thank SANZAR for giving us the opportunity to present the Asia Pacific Dragons proposal, but understand that perhaps the competition is not ready for a fully privately-owned club," said Series. "However, with increased player movement, shortened careers and the economic changes in professional rugby it seems inevitable that this will have to happen and the beneficial changes being seen in the Northern Hemisphere will start to impact SANZAR as well." The writing was on the wall for Singapore in July when SANZAR said geographic location was among the key criteria when shortlisting the two Asian bids.
Earlier this month, South African Rugby Union President Oregan Hoskins told reporters that Japan's bid proposal had been changed to include Singapore as a host for some of the matches.
It is understood Singapore would host up to four matches at their 55,000 seat, retractable roof National Stadium for the Japanese team, although the format and number of games in the 2016 season is yet to be determined. "The news that the Japan team will play matches in Singapore is also welcomed, as knowing that they will need to invest in rugby in Singapore and South-East Asia in order to achieve that, is a consequence we warmly endorse, as this was a key and major component of our Proposal," said Series.