All Blacks welcome Puma's entry to Investec Tri Nations


NZPA     16 Sep 2009     getty

Sanzar has conditionally invited the Union Argentina de Rugby (UAR) into what will become a Four Nations championship from 2012, although the problem child of the world game must be on a sound financial footing and provide a guarantee it can free up its best players.

All Blacks backs coach Wayne Smith said Argentina would clearly benefit from getting regular top-flight rugby while a revitalised format would be a boost for Sanzar regulars New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.

"It'll freshen the competition, it will add new faces," Smith said.

"It might bring some new people into the Super competition as well because they're going to have to play in the southern hemisphere, the Argentinians, in a viable competition."

He was sure leading players from the 2007 World Cup bronze medallists, most of whom play for rich French clubs, would be prepared to play in the southern hemisphere.

Sanzar is encouraging Argentina's players to play in the expanded Super 15 although how that would work is to be negotiated.

Smith didn't believe an influx of Pumas players would mean there are fewer places for New Zealanders in Super rugby.

"I don't think so, because there's going to be one new franchise. We should be more concerned about that robbing Kiwi players," said Smith, who believed the long-held New Zealand desire of a global competition was now one step closer.

NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said the UAR's governance had improved immensely and hoped the obstacles to freeing up players from their European club contracts could be overcome.

The clubs would need to be financially compensated while players are on test duty as a Four-Nations tournament in starting in mid-August will be played outside the International Rugby Board's (IRB) test window.

"They have made a huge amount of progress in the past six months ... not long ago they were facing bankruptcy and they have come a long way," Tew told The Dominion Post.

The IRB today welcomed Sanzar's invitation for Argentina into what would be a 12-test tournament, with all four sides playing six tests on a home-and-away basis.

UAR high performance board member and 2007 Pumas captain Augustin Pichot said the opportunity would provide impetus for participation growth within his country and around South America.

"I can't express the joy of what this means for me and the whole team at the UAR who have been working on this important project," he said.

"We are delighted to now get the chance to become a great rugby nation with the chance to play top level international rugby on an annual basis."

The IRB annually commits $US2 million ($NZ2.89 million) to the UAR's domestic high performance and development structures.