Competition bids to cement nation as major player in the sport.
- Three-tier league pyramid to replace Top League and Top Challenge League
- Plans to catapult Japan to competing “at a world class level”
- JRFU first set out new league proposals during 2019 Rugby World Cup
The Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) has announced its latest plans for its new domestic club competitions, including the launch of a three-tier league system in January 2022, as it bids to take rugby union in the country to new heights.
The national governing body first unveiled its shakeup to domestic club rugby in 2019 amid the national team’s success during the home Rugby World Cup, where the Brave Blossoms reached the quarter-finals.
At the time, the JRFU was looking to start a new 12-team tournament in autumn 2021, with the ambitious goal to generate annual revenue of 50 billion yen (US$481 million) through media rights and sponsorship deals.
Further plans released at the start of last year included two divisions made up of 12 teams each, replacing the top two club competitions in Japan, as well as entry requirements.
Now, the JRFU has set its sights on a three-tier professional structure, due to launch in a year’s time, featuring 25 teams, with 12 top-tier clubs split into two conferences. Seven teams would compete in division two and six in division three.
The new plans would, again, look to replace the country’s top two rugby union competitions, the Top League and Top Challenge League.
Promotion and relegation playoffs will also feature at the end of each season, as well as a championship game between the winners of the top division conferences.
In addition, a January kickoff ensures the domestic season would align with southern hemisphere competitions, allowing Japanese teams to arrange matches against overseas opposition.
“Under the current uncertain circumstances due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we believe that it means so much to take a step toward further growth of Japan rugby,” said Mayumi Taniguchi, director of the new league’s development office.
“We will move along with the teams, our stakeholders and fans with the goal of creating the world’s best league.”
Despite these aspirations, JRFU chairman Kensuke Iwabuchi cautioned that the plans remain in the discussion phase with unions and leagues outside of Japan, as the sport continues to navigate its way through the pandemic.
“The international calendar and league calendar are uncertain because of Covid-19 so we haven’t been able to confirm matches yet,” he told reporters, adding that the new competitions would look to “set the stage for Japan to compete at a world class level”.