Argentina has been confirmed alongside South Africa, New Zealand and Australia to play from 2012 in “The Rugby Championship” – the exciting and ground-breaking replacement for the Tri-Nations series.
After several months of negotiations with the Unión Argentina de Rugby (UAR) and the International Rugby Board (IRB), the SANZAR Joint Venture partners have invited Argentina to join the tournament. An agreement confirming Argentina’s participation was signed in Auckland recently.
“The invitation to Argentina to join the Championship is a defining moment for Southern Hemisphere rugby and significant for world rugby,” said SANZAR CEO, Greg Peters.
“The regular participation of Argentina at a higher level is long overdue and we are excited about their inclusion in The Rugby Championship. Playing in the Championship will have significant benefits for Argentinian rugby as a whole and will bring new energy to the jewel in the crown of SANZAR.
“The Pumas, as they showed at the recent Rugby World Cup, play an exciting and different brand of rugby to the other three teams, which will definitely add a new dimension,” Peters said.
The new name of The Rugby Championship reflects its claim to be the ultimate contest, featuring teams that are currently ranked first, second, fourth and seventh in the world.
“The Rugby Championship is an annual contest between the ‘best-of-the-best’ in world rugby - nations who have won six of the seven Rugby World Cups,” said Peters.
The President of the UAR, Luis Castillo, has described his country’s inclusion as an historic moment for rugby in Argentina.
“The Argentine Rugby Union and Argentinean rugby community is proud to be part of this great tournament,” he said. “We will work to maintain high standards in our rugby, with our ultimate goal being to keep generating resources for the development of rugby at the clubs,” Castillo said.
UAR High Performance Chairman, Manuel Galindo, added: “For years Argentinean Rugby has been seeking to participate regularly in a tournament like this. Playing in The Rugby Championship makes us really proud and will compel us to work harder at what we are doing. We must celebrate being part of this tournament,” he said.
Argentina’s participation in The Rugby Championship has been welcomed by the SANZAR Joint Venture partners.
Australian Rugby Union (ARU) Managing Director and CEO, John O’Neill said: "Argentina is a proud rugby nation and their passionate charge to the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup in 2007 was certainly a feature of that tournament in France.
"They have waited a long time to play in a regular competition at the highest level and their inclusion into The Rugby Championship from 2012 provides that opportunity.
"The expansion of the Championship, following this year's new-look format for Super Rugby with the addition of a 15th team in the Melbourne Rebels, is also further proof that SANZAR continues to be the innovative leader of the international game.
"We have come a long way since the professional era dawned with a Super 12 competition and a two-round Tri-Nations series between the Wallabies, All Blacks and Springboks.
"Our international footprint has been significantly increased at both Super Rugby and Test level and the launching of The Rugby Championship next year will be the latest exciting chapter in the ongoing evolution of SANZAR."
South African Rugby Union (SARU) CEO, Jurie Roux said: “This is a significant moment in the history of Southern Hemisphere rugby and marks the launching pad to a dramatically changed landscape.
“The inclusion of South Africa’s old friends from Argentina is a great day for rugby and recognises the rich history and passion for the sport in the rugby community in that country.
“It will add a new flavour and dimension to SANZAR rugby and offers the prospect of promoting rugby in other South American nations.
“It also ensures a more logical and balanced Championship with fixtures and travel evened out across the region.”
The CEO of the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU), Steve Tew added: “The 2011 Rugby World Cup demonstrated exactly how exciting matches between our four countries can be.
“Argentina fully deserves to be part of the best annual rugby competition in the world and their presence in the Championship – as well as the inclusion of Sevens rugby in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro – help the global expansion of the game.
“Outside of the Rugby World Cup, the Pumas last played in New Zealand in June 2004. As we saw during the tournament, their colourful and lively fans will be sure to add something special to The Rugby Championship.
“This Championship will ensure fans get to see more of the outstanding, hard hitting and exciting rugby for which our SANZAR nations are known as well as the flair and unpredictable style of rugby that Argentina is sure to bring,” Tew said.
Former Pumas scrumhalf, Agustin Pichot, the UAR’s SANZAR Representative who has led its negotiations with SANZAR, said Argentinean rugby as a whole should be proud of this achievement.
“After many years of history and the hard work of many generations of players on and off the pitch, Argentinean rugby will be part of the toughest and most prestigious tournament in the Southern Hemisphere,” Pichot said.
SANZAR has confirmed the draw for the inaugural edition of The Rugby Championship in 2012, which sees each side facing the others twice – home and away – for a total of 12 matches.
The 2012 Championship will kick-off on 18 August 2012 and conclude on 6 October 2012.
“Adding another country will have an impact on the travel schedules,” Peters said.
“To balance the additional travel requirements, the fixtures have been scheduled in two-week blocks with week-long travel byes in-between. This will ensure there is adequate recovery time for the teams,” he said.
The Rugby Championship fixtures:
18 August 2012: Australia vs New Zealand at ANZ Stadium, Sydney
South Africa vs Argentina - TBC
25 August 2012: New Zealand vs Australia at Eden Park, Auckland
Argentina vs South Africa - TBC
1 September 2012: Travel Bye
8 September 2012: Australia vs South Africa at Patersons Stadium, Perth
New Zealand vs Argentina at Westpac Stadium in Wellington
15 September 2012: Australia vs Argentina at Skilled Park, Gold Coast
New Zealand vs South Africa at Forsyth Barr in Dunedin
22 September 2012: Travel Bye
29 September 2012: South Africa vs Australia - TBC
Argentina vs New Zealand - TBC
6 October 2012: South Africa vs New Zealand - TBC
Argentina vs Australia - TBC
Match venues for South Africa and Argentina still have to be confirmed and will be announced later by SANZAR.
A SANZAR delegation will travel to Argentina in November on a fact-finding visit during which it will conduct venue inspections and hold discussions with the UAR, host broadcasters, sponsors and other key stakeholders to ensure the smooth transition from Tri-Nations to The Rugby Championship.