Argentina edge closer to Tri-Nations berth
March 4, 2009
NZRU chief executive Steve Tew has hinted that any addition to the Super 14 competition is likely to come from within South Africa, Australia or New Zealand. © Getty Images
Argentina's hopes of joining the Tri-Nations competition have been boosted following a meeting of the SANZAR executive committee in Dubai.
The Pumas, currently fourth in the world rankings, have long been pushing for promotion to an elite competition - either the Tri-Nations or the Six Nations in Europe. However, following an International Rugby Board ruling that their future was in the southern hemisphere, the Argentina Rugby Union (UAR) have concentrated their efforts on SANZAR, the umbrella body representing South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Those pleas have been rewarded with SANZAR instructing a working party to investigate the viability of their case. Argentina finished third at the 2007 Rugby World Cup and were rewarded with an expanded Test schedule and entry into Churchill Cup competition but they are likely to have to wait until 2011 for a place in the Tri-Nations.
The meeting, that featured, "constructive and robust discussions", also confirmed SANZAR's plans to expand the Super Rugby competition to and introduce a new format that would see teams play home and away matches within local conferences before meeting in play-offs in a competition extended to 22 weeks.
"The Executive Committee was provided with a detailed options paper by the joint Working Party involving representatives from all three National Unions and the Players Associations of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, " SANZAR said in a statement.
"SANZAR has appointed a dedicated project manager who will continue to work with the Working Party in refining the preferred competition structures for Super Rugby and Tri Nations. This will see an expansion in the format of Super Rugby with geographically based conferences and expanded finals.
"The Executive Committee also considered a further report from Argentina and has asked the Working Party to perform further analysis on the viability of Argentina joining the Tri Nations."
SANZAR are under increasing pressure to develop both competitions as they look to re-negotiate their lucrative broadcasting rights deal and will present their plans to their current partner News Ltd in June who have first refusal.
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said that the meeting reaffirmed what had been discussed by the committee last year that expansion will come in several forms. Although interest in joining the Super Rugby competition had been noted from Japan, the Pacific Islands and the USA it is likely that any addition would come from within the three current countries.
"Melbourne have been keen on a franchise, South Africa have said they would like a side from the Eastern Cape and New Zealand have provinces that have aspirations as well," Tew said in an interview with RadioSport. "This is a very important decision ... not just for the financial strength of the three countries involved but it will help determine the landscape of rugby in the three countries. We have to get this right and we are very conscious of our responsibility."
On the proposed introduction of Argentina to the Tri-Nations, Tew added, "It would be much more attractive to see them join up at some point of time in the Tri-Nations if we can make that work."