The southern hemisphere’s annual international rugby union competition has been expanded and rebranded with the addition of Argentina alongside more familiar rugby playing nations.
SANZAR – the body operating the compeition -have revealed that Argentina’s Los Pumas would join a new four-nations tie called “The Rugby Championship,” kicking off next August.
SANZAR chief Greg Peters said the tournament, which updates the 15-year-old Tri-Nations series, would be the “ultimate contest”, bringing together the world’s first, second, fourth and seventh-ranked teams.
“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,” Peters said.
“The invitation to Argentina to join the Championship is a defining moment for Southern Hemisphere rugby and significant for world rugby,’ he added.
Previous semi-finalists, Los Pumas had a solid World Cup which saw them knocked out at the quarter-final stage by the All Blacks, who went on to win, and Peters said their regular inclusion at elite level was “long overdue”.
“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,” he said.
Argentine rugby officials said it was a historic moment for the sport in their nation and expressed great pride for the opportunity.
“For years Argentinean Rugby has been seeking to participate regularly in a tournament like this,” said Union Argentina de Rugby high performance chairman Manuel Galindo.
“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 added.
South African Rugby Union chief Jurie Roux said it marked the “launching pad to a dramatically changed landscape” for southern hemisphere rugby.
New Zealand Rugby Union’s Steve Tew added: “Argentina fully deserves to be part of the best annual rugby competition in the world, and their presence in the Championship… (will) help the global expansion of the game.”
The 12-match Championship schedule kicks off on August 18 2012 and will feature games across all four countries, with Australia taking on New Zealand for the first fixture in Sydney.