New SANZAR chief executive Andy Marinos says he is 100 per cent certain new Japanese team the Sunwolves will be ready to go when they enter the Super Rugby competition next year.
There have been serious concerns the Sunwolves may not be able to take their place in an expanded, 18-team competition next year, as they are still yet to sign a head coach at a time when rival Super Rugby clubs have begun confirming their full playing rosters.
Marinos, who previously served as SANZAR boss from 2008 to 2010, said the Sunwolves have signed approximately 25 players, with more to follow when their coach is confirmed in the next week or two.
But he admitted he did hold “concerns” over how they and one of the other new entrants, South Africa’s Kings, will adapt to Super Rugby.
“With the Kings and Japan, it’s a hell of a lot of the unknown – how are they going to adapt to the travel, the schedule,” Marinos said.
“When I say they are concerns, we are very cautious and very aware of what’s lying ahead in this expansion.
“But in saying that, I’ve learned one thing in rugby – you can never start writing off teams until the competition actually gets underway.”
Marinos sounded far less worried about the other new entrant to Super Rugby, a yet-to-be-named Argentinian franchise, which is to reveal its name, logo and colours in the first week of December.
“I certainly don’t see many challenges coming out of Argentina,” he said.
“I think everyone’s holding their breath and saying ‘gee, if it’s the same group of guys who played in the World Cup coming into this, it’s going to be a very difficult and tough match that you’re going to be playing’.”
Marinos conceded 2016 will be something of a transition year for Super Rugby, given the new teams and the complicated conference structure that now covers five different countries.
But it could get even more complicated in future – one of Marinos’ first tasks, when he officially begins his job on January 1, is to develop a strategic direction for the competition and map out plans for the next wave of expansion.
Marinos said no part of the world was off limits, mentioning Asia, North America, the Pacific Islands and even parts of Europe as possible bases for Super Rugby teams down the track.
“If we understand since 1996, this has been an unincorporated joint venture between three countries… but we’ve evolved, developed, our markets have evolved and developed,” he said.
“What’s really necessary now is to have an overarching strategic plan so that any further growth or expansion or penetration into new markets (has) a very sound business case behind it.”