Top League to Feature 2 Conference System

TOKYO (Jan. 30) – The Japan Rugby Top League will be split into two conferences for the next two seasons, Top League Commissioner Osamu Ota said Monday.

Based on how they finish in the preceding season, teams will be allotted to either Conference A or B (as they are temporarily called).

Teams will play the seven other sides in their own conference plus six from the other group to determine the rankings for the end of season playoffs.

The top four sides will then compete for the league title, which doubles up as the All-Japan Championship.

There will be similar four-team playoffs for all the other positions with the side finishing 16th automatically relegated to the Top Challenge League, the new national second division.

The sides finishing 13th to 15th in the Top League will play promotion/relegation games against the 2nd to 4th ranked teams from the TCL.

Conference A for the 2017-18 season, will feature Suntory Sungoliath, Kobe Kobelco Steelers, NTT Communications Shining Arcs, Toyota Verblitz, Toshiba Brave Lupus, Kubota Spears, Kintetsu Liners and newly promoted NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes.

Yamaha Jubilo, Panasonic Wild Knights, Ricoh Blacks Rams, Canon Eagles, NEC Green Rockets, Munakata Sanix Blues, Coca-Cola Red Sparks and Toyota Industries Shuttles will make up Conference B.

As to which sides a team would play from the other conference, Ota said the schedule had been drawn up to ensure the top seeds would play each other and avoid the lower ranked teams in the other group.

Ota said the new format had been designed in order to ensure the welfare of Japan’s top players, given their commitments to the Sunwolves and the Brave Blossoms.

“Our first priority is to contribute to the development of the Japan national team,” Ota said. “We talked with (Brave Blossoms coach) Jamie Joseph and (national team director) Masahiro Kunda  as well as the 16 teams and created this new format (which allows us) to give the Sunwolves at least five weeks before they play their first game.”