Sunday, April 01, 2007

Argentina preview, and the so-called "Quad Nations" proposal

June 23, 2006

Rugby Planet runs their AB-Puma test match preview up the pole -- predictably -- with an overheated 700-word introduction about it being time that the SANZAR big-boys welcomed Argentina into a Quad-Nations championship.

"The media moguls and corporate cling-ons who saw fit to exclude Argentina from the new Tri-Nations contract have set the game back years in the country, and robbed world rugby of a tournament showcase for what is indisputably one of the world's finest teams."

Where to start...?

Argentine rugby punches above their weight. Nobody disputes that. And there's no question they need more international competition, not just to strengthen their national rugby team, but to elevate international rugby and help make it a truly global sport. Concerned parties in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa get this.

But let's jump to the obvious and call out The Pacific, the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. They pose a geographic, financial and logistical nightmare. Look at the map...


It's easy for somebody sitting in the comfort of a La-Z-Boy in London, Cardiff or Dublin to moan about the "greedy" southern hemisphere powers and wag their fingers saying the Argies should be included in SANZAR's tournament. But look at that map ... it looks like Cook's 2nd voyage. It's half the planet. Home-and-Away. Every Year.

The Six Nations model is superb for the Six Nations. But that doesn't mean it'll work everywhere on an annual basis. The 6N is a one-test-against-each-opponent format, played between nations and stadiums within a few hundred miles of each other, played in two time zones. The only bodies of water those teams have as obstacles are the English Channel and Irish Sea.

The idea of a Quad Nations inclusion for Argentina sounds terrific. But look at the geography required... that's a coverage of, what...? 15,000 miles ... over half the globe's time zones. It is like proposing the NFL expand to include teams from Alaska and India; or extending the NHL from Newfoundland to Indonesia. Does anyone think Paul Tagliabue and Gary Bettman would agree to such proposals? Just sayin'...

Of course, there's a massive difference between NFL seasons and a four nation home-and-away tournament -- so my point is exaggerated -- but those are huge miles. And unlike the Six Nations, the Tri-Nations series are determined on the fair-and-balanced home-and-away model. Adding Argentina brings that tournament alone to six test matches for each nation.

That means two extra fixtures -- fixtures that Australia and New Zealand might be sacrificing tests against Fiji, Samoa, Tonga. And that's a whole other hornets nest.

And by necessity we are obliged to ask about Super 14. Nobody who proposes the Quad Nations format is expecting Argentine inclusion in the Super 14. But the Tri-Nations and S14 are SANZAR's biggest properties, they are intimately connected and ruthlessly protected.

It's also worth noting that the so-called "big boys" getting blamed for the omission of Argentina, namely, the NZRU, are hearing it from other sides. New Zealand's club rugby and National Provincial Championship -- what they consider their grass roots -- have been sacrificed to the altar of professional rugby. The kiwi public isn't happy about that. And contracted professional players are constantly complaining about burnout -- too much rugby and too much travel. Super 14 expansion has already extended their season. Unless something else is sacrificed, the players don't want extra games. The NZRU is getting stick from everybody. But they have to feather their nest and do what they think is best for the game in their country. Asking SANZAR to give up control, or take a risk on that control, with a union that is as rudderless as the Argentine Rugby Union is right now, probably doesn't look like a sure-bet right this minute. Hopefully their fortunes will be turned around, but these things take years of negotiation and planning.

Argentina is an orphan. Truth be told, it would be awesome to see them in a southern hemisphere tournament; and it would be great to see a Pacific Islands presence there too. Both would be a formidible presence. Maybe it has to be a bi-annual event. It's a headache. If somebody waves enough $$$ around, it'll happen. Until then, good intentions won't be enough.

Rugby Planet picks Argentina to win an upset by 4 points. If the Pumas pull that off, maybe their dream of a "4N" will see the light of day a lot faster. Totalbet has the All Blacks by ten.

Lastly, South Africa's domestic provincial Currie Cup competition kicks-off this weekend.


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