The Sunwolves, seen here celebrating a victory over the Bulls in Tokyo in 2017, may be axed from Super Rugby if the tournament is reduced to 14 teams. Photo: Kimimasa Mayama/EPA

SYDNEY – Reports that Super Rugby will shrink from 15 to 14 teams as part of the next broadcast deal are speculative, and no decisions have yet been made over the size of the competition from 2021, governing body Sanzaar said on Tuesday.

Super Rugby, the annual competition that grew out of the southern hemisphere provincial championship, contracted from 18 teams to 15 for last season after struggling for audiences in the key markets of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday suggested a further shrinkage was on the cards, with the single northern hemisphere team, Japan’s Sunwolves, facing the axe to allow the unpopular conference system to be dispensed with.

Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos said on Tuesday that such reports were mere conjecture at this stage, and that any changes to the structure of the competition would be communicated “at the appropriate time”.

“The recent reports in the media around the next iteration of the Super Rugby tournament are nothing more than speculative,” the South African said in a statement.

“As a business, we are presently looking at our future competition structures from 2021 onwards, a matter that has been widely reported in the media.

“We have not reached any definitive decisions around our future competition, including the number of teams that will participate in the future structure.”

Super Rugby started with 12 teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa after the game turned professional in 1996 with further expansions over the next decade taking the competition to 18 franchises.

The 18-team format, which included an expansion into Argentina and Japan, was dumped after the 2016 and 2017 seasons with Australia’s Western Force as well as South Africa’s Cheetahs and Kings losing their spots.

While Argentina’s Jaguares have thrived in their three seasons in Super Rugby and qualified for the playoffs this year, the Sunwolves have finished bottom, second bottom and bottom in their three campaigns to date.