Yuki Yatomi of the Sunwolves passes the ball during their Super Rugby match against the Stormers in Cape Town. Picture: BACKPAGE PIX/CHRIS RICCO
Yuki Yatomi of the Sunwolves passes the ball during their Super Rugby match against the Stormers in Cape Town. Picture: BACKPAGE PIX/CHRIS RICCO

The Sunwolves will play under a heavy cloud when they face the Golden Lions in Singapore on Saturday, after it was widely touted that Super Rugby are about to announce the axing of Japan franchise for next season.

Governing body Sanzaar said it would make a statement on the “future of Super Rugby” on Friday. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph said the Sunwolves would be sacrificed as the 15-team, globe-crossing tournament reverts to 14 sides and a round-robin format in 2020, ditching its unpopular conference system.

A spokesperson for the Tokyo-based team said: “We are still waiting for Friday’s official announcement and at this stage have no comment to make.”  But it could not come at a worse time, just six months before Japan hosts the Rugby World Cup.

Outstanding Western Stormers forward Pieter-Steph du Toit is unlikely to play in all four games on an Australasia tour because his wife is expecting their first child.  “When my wife phones to say the birth is imminent, I will catch the first available flight to South Africa,” said the Springbok lock-cum-flanker.

Cape Town-based columnist Mark Keohane has described the 26-year-old Du Toit as “the best forward in world rugby at the moment”.

The Stormers, who left SA with three straight wins, tackle the Hurricanes this Saturday, then the Blues, Reds and Rebels.

Waratahs fullback Israel Folau says his star-studded team haven’t fully got going with Saturday’s clash against the competition-leading Crusaders set to be a key test of their progress.

The Tahs have won two and lost two and face the unbeaten Crusaders in Sydney in what will be an emotionally-charged contest following the Christchurch mosque killings.

“As representative players within the side we’d be the first ones to put our hands up,” Folau said of fellow Wallabies such as Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale. “We feel like we obviously haven’t hit our straps yet and there’s still a lot of improvement to come.”

The Waratahs have dropped Karmichael Hunt with Wallaby Nick Phipps making his first starting appearance of the season.

The Waratahs will tread new ground when they run out for Saturday’s game at the Sydney Cricket Ground — the playing surface has been returfed. Ground staff had to replace 3,000m² of SCG grass after it was destroyed during the home win over the Reds two weeks ago.

There was concern that the same could happen again. “The field was assessed this week by the New South Wales Rugby Union and SCG representatives as well as independent consultants, who deemed the field to meet Super Rugby standards,” said NSW Rugby.

The Tahs are playing at the SCG because their usual home venue, the Sydney Football Stadium next door, is being redeveloped.

SA-born Rebels coach Dave Wessels says Super Rugby is the “premier rugby competition in the world when it comes to speed and skill”. 

“I do not believe there is a team in Europe that could travel to New Zealand and beat the Crusaders there. Unless you play New Zealand teams in New Zealand and beat them you cannot claim to be in the best competition in the world.”

The Christchurch-based Crusaders have won the Super Rugby competition a record nine times and lead the combined standings after five rounds this season.