All Blacks welcome Pumas into Tri-Nations
September 15, 2009
Wayne Smith, the All Black assistant coach, faces the media during a New Zealand All Blacks media session at Leriba Lodge in South Africa on July 21, 2009
All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith believes the Pumas wll freshen up the annual battle for the southern hemisphere crown © Getty Images

The All Blacks have followed the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) in welcoming Argentina into the Tri-Nations fold.

SANZAR has conditionally invited the Union Argentina de Rugby (UAR) into what will become a Four Nations championship from 2012, although the problem child of the world game must be on a sound financial footing and provide a guarantee it can free up its best players.

All Blacks backs coach Wayne Smith said Argentina would clearly benefit from getting regular top-flight rugby while a revitalised format would be a boost for SANZAR regulars New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.

"It'll freshen the competition, it will add new faces," Smith said. "It might bring some new people into the Super competition as well because they're going to have to play in the southern hemisphere, the Argentinians, in a viable competition."

He was sure leading players from the 2007 Rugby World Cup bronze medallists, most of whom play for rich French clubs, would be prepared to play in the southern hemisphere. SANZAR is encouraging Argentina's players to play in the expanded Super 15 although how that would work is to be negotiated.

Smith didn't believe an influx of Pumas players would mean there are fewer places for New Zealanders in Super rugby.

"I don't think so, because there's going to be one new franchise. We should be more concerned about that robbing Kiwi players," said Smith, who believed the long-held New Zealand desire of a global competition was now one step closer.

NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said the UAR's governance had improved immensely and hoped the obstacles to freeing up players from their European club contracts could be overcome. The clubs would need to be financially compensated while players are on Test duty as a Four Nations tournament in starting in mid-August will be played outside the International Rugby Board's (IRB) Test window.

"They have made a huge amount of progress in the past six months ... not long ago they were facing bankruptcy and they have come a long way," Tew told The Dominion Post.

IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset hailed the proposal, saying that they will work closely with all parties in order to ensure that the Pumas are able to take their place in the tournament.

"The IRB will continue to work closely with the UAR and SANZAR to try to ensure that Argentina's proposed inclusion becomes a reality," he said. "We will work with all stakeholders to try to ensure that appropriate conditions of invitation are met, including the participation of Argentina's top players and the implementation of a sound and sustainable financial model. Today's announcement is a significant milestone and the IRB would like to express its thanks to SANZAR for its commitment to the process."

Former Pumas skipper and UAR high performance board member welcomed the decision saying, "I have no words to express my joy and that of the team that worked so hard to achieve this goal. We're really happy to get this chance to show that we're ready to play at the highest level of international rugby. This achievement will be vital to promote further growth of the game in Argentina. It is history in the making and we should all be very proud."

His sentiments were echoed by current Pumas star Juan Martin Hernandez, "This is no surprise, but after so many years asking to be part of a big tournament, all I can say is it is spectacular. It is great for Argentine rugby to be able to compete with the best."

"Now we need to keep on working and keep the high standards that helped us get invited to the 'Four Nations'."

The IRB annually commits $US2 million ($NZ2.89 million) to the UAR's domestic high performance and development structures.


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