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Countdown to new era

Thu, 09 Aug 2012 08:11
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Now they will play against the best of the best
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In just over a week, on August 18, rugby history will have an exciting new chapter added with the first matches in the inaugural year of the Rugby Championship.

This competition, the evolution of a Tri-Nations tournament that was first contested in 1996, gets underway with a double-header in Sydney and Cape Town.

Over 16 years three nations - South Africa, New Zealand and Australia - who consistently remained in the top-three of the world, with combined six World Cups to their names, have battled it out in what was by virtue of the team's rankings the toughest rugby competition in the world.

Later this month Argentina will become the fourth nation to participate in the Southern Hemisphere's premier international tournament.

This adds a travel leg to South America, and in the past the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies teams have found how tough it is to play against the Pumas in their own backyard.

SANZAR CEO Greg Peters said anticipation was building for the Rugby Championship.

"With the Pumas entering the Rugby Championship, they join the top-three teams in the world which adds a completely new dimension to what has been a fantastic tournament over the past 16 years." Peters said.

"For many years the Pumas have sought the chance to compete in a regular international tournament and their third placed finish at the 2007 World Cup has been backed up by multiple wins against France, England, Scotland and Italy over recent seasons.

"Now they will play against the 'best of the best' joining an elite group that has not only claimed six World Cups, but have compelling winning records against all of their Northern Hemisphere rivals."

Mendoza, La Plata and Rosario will make their tournament debuts and enter the history books as the first three Argentinean locations to host matches in the Rugby Championship.

Interest is high in Argentina with the All Blacks match at La Plata sold out some time ago. The Pumas will visit Cape Town, Wellington and the Gold Coast in their away matches.

All four rugby nations were in action over the historic June international test series, which saw Super Rugby take a break for the first time in its history.

Reigning Tri-Nations champions the Wallabies suffered a shock 6-9 defeat to Scotland in their first match over June, but accounted for Six Nations Grand Slam champions Wales 3-0 over their test series (27-19 Brisbane, 25-23 Melbourne, 20-19 Sydney).

The All Blacks played their first match since winning the World Cup Final against France in October, and defeated Ireland 3-0 despite the visitors threatening an upset in the second Test (42-10 Auckland, 22-19 Christchurch, 60-0 Hamilton).

The Springboks hosted England and won 2-0 (22-17 Durban, 36-27 Johannesburg, 14-14 Port Elizabeth).

The Pumas hosted Italy and France, and won two of their three Tests (37-22 San Juan v Italy, 23-20 v France in Cordoba, and lost 10-49 v France in Tucuman).

While there were some close results, Peters said the results during the June series underlined how tough the Rugby Championship will be.

"With a 10-2 ledger with one draw between South and North over the three-week period, the standing of the Rugby Championship teams was further confirmed, and the winner of the inaugural tournament will certainly have to fight to earn the coveted trophy."

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