SYDNEY (AP) — Southern hemisphere rugby body SANZAR relaunched its annual test tournament Tuesday as The Rugby Championship to replace the Tri-Nations and reflect the inclusion of Argentina.
Argentina has been confirmed alongside South Africa, New Zealand and Australia to play from 2012 in The Rugby Championship. And the South American nation is confident of fielding its best players.
Player availability is a major issue for the Pumas with almost all their top players attached to European clubs, who are traditionally reluctant to release them for international duties.
Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill said negotiations with the International Rugby Board over the establishment of The Rugby Championship were often intense as SANZAR thrashed out the financial details and strived to ensure Argentina fielded their strongest possible side.
"The IRB, with our help, changed the regulations relating to (player) availability, so opened the window such that the clubs had to release the players to play in The Rugby Championship," O'Neill said.
SANZAR chief executive Greg Peters said the regular participation of Argentina in a top-level tournament is "long overdue and we are excited about their inclusion."
Union Argentina de Rugby President Luis Castillo described the Pumas' inclusion as an "historic moment for rugby in Argentina."
"The Argentine Rugby Union and the Argentinean rugby community is proud to be part of this great tournament," Castillo 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."
O'Neill said The Rugby Championship will be the "best of the best" representing the latest stage in the evolution of rugby in the southern hemisphere.
"The All Blacks are the No.1 side in the world, the Wallabies are No.2, the Springboks are No.4 and Argentina is No.7," O'Neill said. "They will play six matches each, three at home and three away, and the status of this event will be fitting of the moniker The Rugby Championship."
The ARU says it will play its first test at the Gold Coast when it hosts its home match against Argentina in September 2012.