Japan's Top League sides ready for Super Rugby step up, believes Sam Whitelock

If the Super Rugby structure were to be forced into a dramatic change, Japan's Top League sides would be more than capable of mixing it against the best of the southern hemisphere, says Sam Whitelock.

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The All Blacks lock says the top Japanese side can compete with the southern hemisphere. Source: 1 NEWS

With South Africa reportedly eager to walk away from SANZAAR and the southern hemisphere for the hefty financial rewards of the north, administrators have been left with a daunting proposition of keeping the game competitive in the south.

Coupled with the departure of the Japanese Sunwolves from next year, a South African exodus would leave just the five New Zealand Super Rugby sides, four from Australia and Argentina's Jaguares.

However, Japan's thriving Top League domestic competition does offer organisers a slight ray of hope, boasting competitive teams stacked with local and international talent.

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has been one voice to call for the Japanese clubs to be invited into Super Rugby, in what would be a straight swap if and when the South African sides depart for Europe.

Current All Black Whitelock is one of many Kiwi players to have already tasted life in Japan's Top League, playing for the Panasonic Wild Knights this year, before Covid-19 saw global sport grind to a halt.

Whitelock certain that Japan's Top League sides can go toe-to-toe with the best New Zealand, Australia and Argentina can offer.

"The actual style over there, there's some really physical, athletic guys, and they play hard," Whitelock said via Zoom.

"If they would step into a comp, I think they'd do fine. Especially if it's the top two or three teams.

"But you never actually know until they get in there and have a go how they're going to compete.

"The top couple of teams would compete, it would be cool to have that Japanese style thrown in to a competition - whatever that competition looks like."

Former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has been another to declare that Super Rugby's future involves Japan, calling for an overhaul earlier today.