The Springboks will kick off against the Pumas when the all-new “The Castle Rugby Championship” launches in 2012 – the exciting and ground-breaking replacement for the Tri-Nations series, SANZAR announced on Tuesday.
An agreement confirming Argentina’s participation was signed in Auckland recently by the SANZAR Joint Venture partners after several months of negotiations with the Unión Argentina de Rugby (UAR) and the International Rugby Board (IRB).
The new-look tournament has been given a new name and a new fixture line-up with two Tests on each match day. Each participant plays home and away matches against each of the other three participants.
The Boks open their inaugural Castle Rugby Championship campaign against the Pumas in South Africa on August 18 before taking part in the first Castle Rugby Championship match on the South American continent a week later. The match venues will be announced in due course.
“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 Castle 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.
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 Springboks travel east at the beginning of September as they undertake back-to-back matches against Australia and New Zealand before concluding The Castle Rugby Championship with home matches against the Wallabies (September 29) and All Blacks (October 6).
The President of the UAR, Luis Castillo, 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.”
The CEO of the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU), Steve Tew said: “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. “
Australian Rugby Union (ARU) Managing Director and CEO, John O’Neill said: "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."
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 other 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 (home team named first, venues TBC):
18 August 2012
Australia vs New Zealand
South Africa vs Argentina
25 August 2012
New Zealand vs Australia
Argentina vs South Africa
1 September 2012: Travel Bye
8 September 2012:
Australia vs South Africa
New Zealand vs Argentina
15 September 2012
Australia vs Argentina
New Zealand vs South Africa
22 September 2012: Travel Bye
29 September 2012
South Africa vs Australia
Argentina vs New Zealand
6 October 2012
South Africa vs New Zealand
Argentina vs Australia
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.