ARGENTINA’S rugby union boss Porfirio Carreras has described the invitation to join an expanded Tri-Nations competition from 2012 as a “momentous time” for the sport in the country.
SANZAR, the body that governs Tri-Nations giants Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, yesterday revealed that the South American team have been handed an invitation to join them in a new Four Nations championship on condition that they field their best players available.
Calls to have the Pumas, who finished third at the last World Cup, included in the tournament first began almost 10 years ago and this latest development has been hailed by Carreras.
“This is a momentous time for rugby in Argentina and I’d like to thank my board and everyone who supported us to reach this point,” Union Argentina de Rugby (UAR) president said.
“We are very much looking forward to working with our partners in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to secure our place in the best competition in world rugby in 2012.”
Agustin Pichot, the former Argentina captain who is now a member of their Four Nations project team, added: “I can’t express the joy of myself and the team working on this project to get to this point.
“This exciting development will be vital to grow the game in Argentina. This is historic and everyone in Argentina should be proud.”
The format for the new Four Nations will see the four teams playing on a home and away basis, meaning six matches per team and a total of 12 matches which will be played from mid-August for an eight to nine-week period. In a World Cup year, an abbreviated format would be played through July and August.
However, SANZAR stressed that some conditions needed to be overcome, the most notable being the availability of Argentina’s star players. Most of them currently play for European clubs and any involvement in the new championship could lead to a club v country row due to the similar timing of the northern hemisphere season.
To assist with this, the three unions will “actively work” with Argentina to place their best players in the Super 15 provincial competition – the southern hemisphere tournament which will be expanded from the current Super 14 format.
SANZAR also needs to agree a financial model and secure support from broadcasters, but chief executive Andy Marinos is confident that their new vision can be achieved.
Meanwhile, Munster coach Tony McGahan has hailed his side’s new signing Jean de Villiers, who will arrive in Cork on Thursday.
De Villiers, fresh from his role in helping South Africa to the Tri-Nations title signed off with a fine intercept try last Saturday in the win over New Zealand that secured South Africa’s first Tri-Nations title since 2004.
McGahan said: “Jean de Villiers is recognised as one of the top midfield players in world rugby. and I’m looking forward to having him in our squad. He brings a wealth of experience and a skill level that will benefit Munster on and off the field.”
Western Province’s managing director Rob Wagner admitted his side were sad to be losing de Villiers.
“As a captain and a player he has contributed significantly on and off the pitch. Whilst we did everything in our power to retain his services, Jean has made up his mind to join the great Irish club Munster. We thank him for all he has done and wish him the very best.”
De Villiers will undergo medical and fitness tests before joining up with his new Munster team-mates but the centre could be in line to make his debut against the Dragons at Musgrave Park on September 27.
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