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SANZAR impressed by Pumas' preparations
Graham Jenkins
February 16, 2011

SANZAR chief executive Greg Peters has confirmed that Argentina remain on course to join their southern hemisphere rivals in an expanded Tri-Nations competition in 2012.

The Unión Argentina de Rugby (UAR) was invited to join the competition in 2009 and has been working with SANZAR, the umbrella group representing South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, and the International Rugby Board (IRB) ever since to ensure that conditions for their inclusion were met.

The Pumas' admittance moved a step closer last year with the latest SANZAR broadcasting rights deal and the IRB's decision to adjust Regulation 9, which governs the release of players for international duty. The sport's governing body had previously promised an initial US$10m funding package to underwrite the Pumas' entry into an expanded competition, up to 2015.

Peters, who became the first full-time SANZAR CEO in November, has visited Argentina and was impressed by the work being done to ensure the foundations are in place for their long-awaited step up to a Tier One tournament, in particular the efforts of a former Pumas international.

"Argentina have done a fantastic job," Peters told ESPNscrum "Agustin Pichot has taken a lead role and he has been the driving force behind it. The energy and passion he's put into making it happen is amazing.

"It was great to see the structures they have had in place for well over 100 years and how they are moving into the professional era ahead of their entry into what will be the Four Nations in 2012. Ultimately their goal is to develop the talent within the country and bring players through to Super Rugby in future years.

"We're well on course and on track and it was a great experience to see it for myself and get a far better idea of how rugby works in that country. I have no doubt they will be ready and I'm sure they will give the other three SANZAR countries a hurry-up - especially at home."

Peters hailed the change to Regulation 9 as a vital component in ensuring Argentina's step up to the Four Nations becomes a reality. The vast majority of the country's leading players are currently contracted to play their club rugby in Europe and before the IRB's intervention they only had to be released for the June and November international windows.

However, the change created an additional release period from late August to early October - the proposed dates of the new Four Nations tournament.

"That move has fundamentally changed their availability," Peters said. "In the future, if those players are going to be out of the game from June through to December then they may not be as attractive to northern hemisphere clubs.

"Therefore the likely outcome would be that some of those players would be looking for placements in the southern hemisphere competitions to make up for the fact they are no longer contracted in the northern hemisphere.

"It's up to the player to make their own decisions. If a player opts to play international rugby then his contract cannot preclude him from doing that. And then the club will need to decide where they will contract him or not."

Peters accepts that the UAR may have to bridge the financial gap if they are to guarantee access to their best players. "It will require some give and take to bring the best players back from Europe," he said. "But over time instead of those guys going north they will be playing in the southern hemisphere and hopefully Argentina."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.
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