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IRB aims to “upgrade” Argentina by 2012

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Argentina’s rugby future lies in the Southern Hemisphere and not in Europe where the majority of its team play.

On the back of the Pumas’ unexpected run to the World Cup semifinals in October, an IRB forum decided Friday on four-year plan to ensure Argentina plays the same number of annual tests as other major rugby nations by 2012.

That could eventually mean Argentina will join Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in an expanded Tri-Nations tournament instead of the Europe-based Six Nations championship.

The IRB will increase the number of tests played by Argentina from six to nine, starting next year. They will play four tests in June, three in November and two during the Six Nations window.

“The forum agreed that the Pumas’ future lies in the Southern Hemisphere,” an IRB statement said. “However, in the short term, there are major hurdles to the integration of Argentina into the southern playing structure because the majority of their top players are based in Europe, which leads to many practical and player welfare issues.”

SANZAR, which governs the Tri-Nations and Super 14 tournaments in the Southern Hemisphere, will make the ultimate decision on including the Pumas in its competitions.

“It’s being groomed to become a senior Southern Hemisphere union,” IRB spokesman Greg Thomas said of Argentina.

The forum said the IRB will help to develop competitions to “get players back to Argentina and to develop the next generation of homegrown Argentine players, the majority of whom will hopefully play their topflight rugby based in Argentina.” It is hoped the majority of the Pumas’ team will be based in Argentina by 2012.

Currently, there is no professional rugby competition in the South American country.

The three-day forum – which heard from the IRB council and players, coaches, managers, agents and consultants – also agreed for top-tier nations to play a maximum of 11 tests per year.

With the French and English leagues agreeing to finish by May 31, full-strength European national teams will be able to travel to the Southern Hemisphere to play tests.

Other issues decided included a 10-week minimum for players to rest and for preseason conditioning, and to always hold the World Cup in September and October.

The IRB also wants to make the tests played in June and November more meaningful.

It’s now exploring if the matches should take on a series format which would give ranking points and culminate in a grand final or be part of a 12-team group format run over two years between World Cups.

“The measures were formulated after 30 hours of robust and constructive debate over three days among the 90 delegates from all the major rugby stakeholders from all over the world,” IRB chairman Syd Millar said.

“Finding tenable solutions that allow for growth while not potentially damaging or cannibalizing the game’s existing financial structure has been a challenge.”
 
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