The Brief History of the Rugby Championships
Since the days of early rugby, international tours have been part of the package. The players used take 4 month tours as they traveled by boat to play up to 20 games on tour. It was a time golden development for rugby. New countries were being founded and international teams were finding their place in the rugby world. With the British Empire stretching across the globe, the colonial nations had to travel far and wide to undertake tours but it built the rivalries that we have today.
Even in the infancy of rugby, the nations formed their rivalries and competitions. The home nations played against each other often and the Southern colonial settlements, that is South Africa, Australia and New Zealand began to form their tours.
The Australian and New Zealand rugby competition, known as the Bledisloe Cup has it’s origins in 1931 when the then governor of New Zealand donated to the trophy to be played for between New Zealand and Australia. These two nations have a rich history of sporting competition and the Bledisloe is one of the most famous.
Even though there were regular tours involving South Africa, it wasn’t until the politics changed and rugby turned professional that the SANZAR (South Africa New Zealand Australia Rugby Unions) formed to created the cross country competitions now known as Super Rugby and Rugby Championships.
The Super Rugby is an annual club competition between the three nations which will expand next year. The Rugby Championship is now a four nation competition, but it has its roots as a Tri-Nations competition which was established in 1996. The premise for the competition was for the nations, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to play each other twice in a home and away format and the team with the most points at the end would be declared the winner.
The first year saw New Zealand dominate the competition and come away undefeated. This set the tone for the future of the competition. The following years saw South Africa and Australia each winning the competition 3 times but New Zealand continued to dominate the overall winning ratio.
One of rugby’s greatest games outside of the World Cup was the opening match between New Zealand and Australia in 2000 when Australia were reigning World Cup champions. In a new Olympic stadium in Sydney, 109, 874 spectators attended the match. This figure is still a record holder for any game held in the south. Even though there was a huge home crowd for the Australian Wallabies, the All Blacks snatched victory in the end.
This match is considered by some to be the greatest match played between the two nations and there aren’t many reasons to argue against that.
As the competition aged, it expanded to see each team play each other three times instead of the regular home and away fixtures. The playing grounds would alternate every year so that each team would have two home games and one away game against each other.
In 2008, it was proposed to invite Argentina into the competition but the Argentinian rugby nation need some grass roots changes to shake off the amateur stigma and allow professional leagues to be formed and allow for the availability of the best players to be selected. At this time it conflicted with schedules in Europe and some players may not be available for the games.
After Argentina restructured their rugby and showed some good form in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the official invite was given out and the Tri-Nations competition would expand to include Argentina from 2011. The delay could be attributed to Argentina’s slow professional development and broadcasting licenses.
From 2012, Argentina were on the playing field and were in the mix of the then best three teams in the world. The competition is now a home and away format with each team playing each other twice. This format is modified during World Cup years, but the intensity is still there.
The competition is no longer known as the Tri-Nations, for obvious reasons and now has the name of Rugby Championship. Even though there are now four teams in the fray, New Zealand have dominated winning 16 of the 18 games played since 2012 until now. South Africa have won 10, Australia have won 7 and Argentina won their first game in 2014 against Australia.
The Rugby Championship is the Southern Hemisphere’s premiere international competition and is always a draw for any rugby lover. It’s a competition that involves a great spectrum of different styles of rugby from the well balanced, counter attacking All Blacks, to the forward dominated, big running South Africans, to the back line, inventive magic from the Wallabies and the free flowing, gutsy determination from the Pumas.
Within the overall Rugby Championship tournament, each team plays for trophies against each other. Australia and New Zealand play for the Bledisloe Cup, New Zealand play against South Africa for the Freedom Cup, South Africa play against Australia for the Mandela Trophy. Each of the aforementioned teams play against Argentina for different cups and trophies which don’t have sensational names but still worth playing for.
The competition produces great rugby and is always a joy to watch.