SANZAAR have announced they will officially drop the Sunwolves from Super Rugby from 2021 in a statement on Friday afternoon.
After weeks of rumours, SANZAAR stated they believe the immediate future of Super Rugby rests in a 14-team, round robin competition format.
SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos stated, "The decision to further consolidate the competition format to a 14-team round robin was not taken lightly. It has involved some detailed analysis and a thorough review of the current and future rugby landscape, tournament costs, commercial and broadcast considerations and player welfare in line with our Strategic Plan."
"Competition integrity, affordability and a competitive playing environment were further key drivers to ensure that an optimal player development pathway remains in place to feed into international rugby."
From 2021 the competition will feature five New Zealand sides, four Australian sides, four South African teams as well as the Jaguares from Argentina.
Marinos stated Japan Rugby Football Union advised SANZAAR in early March that they would no longer be able to financially underwrite the Sunwolves past 2020 and determined that Super Rugby would no longer be the best pathway for developing national players.
"The future of the Sunwolves will now be determined by the JRFU," Marinos stated. "However, Japan and the Asia Pacific region remain strategically important to SANZAAR. We will continue to work with the JRFU, Japan Super Rugby Association (JSRA) and other stakeholders, to establish a truly professional league structure in Japan in which current and potentially new teams could participate."
The reformed format will see the removal of the much maligned thee conference system and will see each team play each other in a complete home and away season. This means each side will play 13 matches, with two byes in the regular season. The number of home and away matches will vary from six to seven based on a two-year alternate match schedule.
A new three-week finals series will be introduced with the top six sides to playoff from the title. The top two ranked sides will receive a bye in week one of the finals before hosting semi-finals matches against the winners of the knockout round.
SANZAAR stated they had suggested options for an Asia-Pacific Super Rugby competition that would include Japan, Pacific Islands, North and South American and Hong Kong. The concept would include linking high performance programmes across the nations into the potential competition structure.
SANZAAR will make a further announcement on the format and structure of The Rugby Championship at a later date.