The Rugby Championship

This article is about the Southern Hemisphere international rugby union competition. For other leagues, see Rugby Championship (disambiguation).
The Rugby Championship
Current season or competition:
2016 Rugby Championship

Official logo of The Rugby Championship

Official logo
Sport Rugby union
Formerly known as The Tri Nations
Inaugural season 1996 (as the Tri Nations)
Number of teams 4
Countries  Argentina
 New Zealand
 South Africa
Holders  New Zealand (2016)
Broadcast partner Sky Sport (New Zealand)
Network Ten (Australia)
Fox Sports (Australia)
ESPN & TV Pública (Argentina)
SuperSport (South Africa)
ESPN3 (United States)
Sky Sports (United Kingdom)
Related competition Bledisloe Cup
Freedom Cup
Mandela Challenge Plate
Puma Trophy

The Rugby Championship is an international rugby union competition contested annually by Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Prior to the 2012 tournament, when Argentina joined, it was known as the Tri Nations. The competition is administered by SANZAAR, a consortium consisting of four national governing bodies; the Argentine Rugby Union, Australian Rugby Union, the New Zealand Rugby Union and the South African Rugby Union.

The inaugural Tri Nations tournament was in 1996, and was won by New Zealand – known as the All Blacks. South Africa won their first title in 1998, and Australia their first in 2000. Following the last Tri Nations tournament in 2011, New Zealand had won ten championships, with South Africa and Australia on three titles each. The first Rugby Championship was won by New Zealand, who won all six of their matches.

New Zealand, Australia and South Africa have frequently been ranked among the top rugby nations with the latter two teams winning the Rugby World Cup twice and New Zealand winning it three times. Argentina have been ranked as high as third in the IRB World Rankings and have twice reached the Rugby World Cup semi-finals, a higher achievement than Italy, Scotland, and Ireland among the Six Nations teams.



Australia and New Zealand first played each other in 1903. South Africa toured both nations in 1921 but there was never any formal competition between these teams, unlike the Home Nations (now known as the Six Nations Championship) in the Northern Hemisphere and the three nations only met sporadically.

In the 1930s, Australia and New Zealand started contesting the Bledisloe Cup during rugby tours between the two countries.

The final acceptance of professionalism in rugby union launched the Tri Nations concept[1] - nearing the completion of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, multimillion-pound negotiations between the South African, New Zealand and Australian unions took place to form SANZAR. The new union soon announced a ten-year deal worth £360 million. The competition was established to create an equivalent to the Five Nations in Europe.[2]

In 2012, this competition was extended to include Argentina, a country whose impressive performances in international games (especially in reaching the third place in the 2007 Rugby World Cup) was deemed to merit inclusion in the competition. As a result of the expansion to four teams, the tournament was renamed The Rugby Championship.[3]


The series is played on a home-and-away basis. From the first tournament in 1996 until 2005, the three teams played each other twice. Since then, each team has played the others three times, except in the Rugby World Cup years of 2007 and 2011 when the series reverted to a double round-robin. For 2015, to provide the teams longer preparation time ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, each side played the others' teams only once each.

With the addition of Argentina, in 2012, the format once again reverted to a double round-robin.

In addition to the Rugby Championship trophy, the winner of games played between Australia and New Zealand also go toward determining the winner of the Bledisloe Cup each year. Similarly, the Freedom Cup is contested between New Zealand and South Africa, and the Mandela Challenge Plate between Australia and South Africa.

Tri Nations

The Tri Nations logo

The opening tournament of 1996 was dominated by the All Blacks who stormed to victory undefeated, leaving the Springboks and the Wallabies with just one win each—against each other. The opening exchange was between New Zealand and Australia, New Zealand winning by over 40 points and, although they won all four of their games, the later matches were a lot closer in their scorelines. The launch of the Tri Nations was considered a huge success.[1]

A similar story unfolded the following year, 1997. The All Blacks maintained their dominance over the new competition and again went undefeated. Australia and South Africa found themselves in similar position again with just one win each. The 1998 series was something of a turnaround for all nations with South Africa winning the tournament and Australia finishing second. Two-time winner New Zealand finished at the bottom with no wins. In the following tournament in 1999 New Zealand again became Tri Nations champions and defending champions South Africa fell to the bottom.

Australia, the World Champions at the time, won their first Tri Nations championship in 2000. That tournament is also notable for Australia’s opening match against New Zealand at Stadium Australia where 109,874 spectators attended.[4] Jonah Lomu scored a try in injury time to grab the win for the All Blacks. The game was hailed as one of the greatest ever,[4] and the end competition thought by some to be the best Tri Nations ever at the time.[5]

Australia continued their reign as Tri Nations champions by successfully defending the trophy the following year. Their run ended in 2002 when the All Blacks won the championship again. New Zealand successfully defended it in 2003. South Africa won the 2004 tournament where the three nations finished with two wins each. The Springboks emerged as winners due to their superior table points. The trophy returned to New Zealand in 2005 and the Wallabies failed to win a game. In 2006 New Zealand retained the trophy with 2 games still to be played. In 2007, the Tri Nations was shortened to two games against either team, because it clashed with the Rugby World Cup in France. The Tri Nations championship and the Bledisloe Cup came down to the final match, between New Zealand and Australia at Eden Park. New Zealand ran out easy winners, and lifted both the trophies. There was some controversy as South Africa fielded less than a full strength squad in the away legs in Australia and New Zealand in anticipation of the World Cup. New Zealand defended their title in 2008, in beating Australia in the final match in Brisbane. In 2009, South Africa claimed the season crown in their final match with an away win over New Zealand in Hamilton. 2010 saw another dominant performance by New Zealand, winning the tournament with 2 games to spare and all 6 of their games.


The competition was expanded in 2006 and saw each of the three nations play each other three times, although the 2007 series reverted to a double round-robin to reduce fixture congestion in a World Cup year. Historically there were persistent rumours about the inclusion of Argentina[6] and this was formalised on 14 September 2009 when it was announced that Argentina would become part of the competition in 2012.[7] There have also been rumours about a Pacific Islands team being included too.[8]

Until then, Argentina was the only tier 1 nation that had no regular competition, and some, among them former Pumas captain Agustín Pichot,[9] had even spoken of them joining the Six Nations. However, a spokesperson said: "We belong in a tournament in the southern hemisphere and not in an expanded Six Nations". The inclusion of Argentina did have some support from some bodies, South African Rugby Union deputy chief executive saying: "We would support (their) request to play in the Tri-Nations". Former Springbok coach Jake White also said: "I think it would add a new dimension to the tournament and perhaps refresh it."

Since 2007 a deal between the International Rugby Board (IRB), the world governing body for the sport, was brokering a deal with SANZAR to admit Argentina to the Tri Nations as early as 2008[10] The Sunday Times reported that many players and fans in the SANZAR countries disliked the expansion to a triple round-robin, noting that former All Blacks scrum-half Justin Marshall accused SANZAR of overkill in 2006. Also, the piece added that South Africa is highly dissatisfied with the current Tri Nations format, as it requires that the Boks tour for a month while the Wallabies and All Blacks fly in and out of South Africa in a week. The addition of Argentina would even out travel commitments for all teams involved. The Sunday Times noted that there were two main stumbling blocks to adding Argentina:

However, by August 2007, it became clear that there would be no expansion of the series before the current television contract between SANZAR and News Corporation expires in 2010. An IRB spokesman stated that the main problems with adding the Pumas to the Tri Nations, besides media contracts, were fixture congestion and the lack of a professional structure in Argentina.[11] Domestic rugby in Argentina is still amateur; in fact, the UAR constitution specifically prohibited professional rugby in the country until December 2007,[12] and even did not allow for a professional league.[13] Because of this, a large majority of the Pumas play for European club teams, which would likely create further scheduling conflicts. Admission of Argentina[14] was therefore submitted to several conditions for the UAR :

In November 2007, the IRB held a conference on the future worldwide growth of the sport, with the status of Los Pumas a key topic of discussion. The most important decision made at the conference, with regard to the Tri Nations, was the agreement of the UAR to establish a professional rugby structure between 2008 and 2012, at which time Argentina would be "fully integrated into the Southern top-flight Rugby playing structure."[18] At the time of the IRB conference, the UAR had already scheduled a special meeting for 28 December 2007 to amend its constitution to allow players to be paid.[12] Shortly after the IRB conference, New Zealand Rugby Union deputy chief executive Steve Tew expressed doubts that, within ten years, a professional domestic competition in Argentina would be sufficiently viable to retain elite players in South America despite all the good intentions and funding of the IRB.[19] The aforementioned UAR meeting did not result in the formation of a professional league. The 23 provincial delegates voted unanimously to keep their domestic league amateur, but approved a plan to centrally contract the Pumas selection pool to the UAR as professionals.[13] In February 2009, the UAR announced that under a plan supervised and financed by the IRB, it had contracted 31 local players, who will each receive 2,300 Argentine pesos (USD 655/GBP 452) per month. The eventual goal is for these players to form the core of a future Pumas selection pool.[20]

Argentina officially joined The Rugby Championship in a meeting in Buenos Aires on November 23, 2011.[21]


A South African line-out against New Zealand in 2006

The order of fixtures has changed several times in the history of the series. In the past each team played the others twice. After some tweaking of the schedule it was decided to start the series with two fixtures in either South Africa or New Zealand and move the series to the country that did not host the opening rounds. Under this setup Australia's home fixtures were always the middle two in the series.

The recent reworking of the calendar took effect with the 2006 event. This was the result of a new television deal between SANZAR and broadcasters in the United Kingdom and the SANZAR countries. Each team plays the other three times. In 2006 the series opened in New Zealand and the first four rounds alternated between New Zealand and Australia. The fifth round was in Australia. After a one-week break the series returned to New Zealand and then finished with South Africa's three home fixtures. Each team has two home fixtures against one team and only one home fixture against the other.

The competition begins in July. Originally it had started late in July but, with the expansion of the series, the start date has moved to early in the month. It typically ends early in September. The Rugby Championship opens after the completion of the Super Rugby competition for the year because players from the SANZAR countries are involved in both.

The winner is determined by a points system:

"Bonus points" may also be earned in any given match and count toward deciding the series winner. A total of two bonus points can be possibly scored:

A victorious team can collect either 4 or 5 points, depending on whether or not it gained an attacking bonus point. A team that draws can collect either 2 or 3 points, depending on whether or not it gained an attacking bonus point. A losing team may collect from 0 to 2 points. At the end of the series the team with the most points is declared the winner.

If teams end level on points for any position, the first tiebreaker is total number of wins in the competition, then number of wins against the other team/s tied on points, then overall points differential, then points differential between the team/s tied on points, then most tries scored in the competition. If that can't differentiate the team, the series or position will be shared.[22]

However, the Rugby Championship has yet to finish in a tie for the top spot.



Year Winner Games
1996  New Zealand440011960+59117
1997  New Zealand4400159109+50218
1998  South Africa 44008054+26117
1999  New Zealand 430110361+42012
2000  Australia 430110486+18214
2001  Australia 42118175+6111
2002  New Zealand 43019765+32315
2003  New Zealand 440014265+77218
2004  South Africa 420211098+12311
2005  New Zealand 430111186+25315
2006  New Zealand 6501179112+67323
2007  New Zealand 430110059+41113
2008  New Zealand 6402152106+46319
2009  South Africa 6 5 0 1 158130+28 1 21
2010  New Zealand 6 6 0 0 184 111 +73 3 27
2011  Australia 4 3 0 1 92 79 +13 1 13
2012  New Zealand 660017766+111226
2013  New Zealand 6600202115+87428
2014  New Zealand 641116491+73422
2015  Australia 33008548+37113
2016  New Zealand 660026284+178630


All time

Tri Nations (1996–2011)
Nation Games Points Bonus
played won drawn lost for against diff
 New Zealand725002219361395+5413223210
 Australia72291421531 1721−190341523
 South Africa722814314801831−351241383
Rugby Championship (2012– )
Nation Games Points Bonus
played won drawn lost for against diff
 New Zealand272412890421+469171154
 South Africa2712114639604+3512620

Updated: 10 October 2016


Year Avg. Attendance High Low
2012 45,627 88,739 (NZ at S.A.) 22,278 (ARG at AUS)
2013 40,676 68,765 (NZ at AUS) 18,214 (ARG at AUS)
2014 35,882 68,627 (NZ at AUS) 14,281 (ARG at AUS)
2015 40,569 73,824 (NZ at AUS) 17,512 (ARG at NZL)

Top scorers

The following sections contain points and tries which have been scored in The Rugby Championship.

Top points scorers

Rank Player Team Points
1 Dan Carter New Zealand New Zealand 554
2 Morné Steyn South Africa South Africa 348
3 Andrew Mehrtens New Zealand New Zealand 328
4 Matt Burke Australia Australia 271
5 Matt Giteau Australia Australia 266
6 Percy Montgomery South Africa South Africa 210
7 Stirling Mortlock Australia Australia 198
8 Carlos Spencer New Zealand New Zealand 153
9 Nicolás Sánchez Argentina Argentina 104
10 Aaron Cruden New Zealand New Zealand 103

Updated: 8 August 2015

Top try scorers

Rank Player Team Tries
1Bryan HabanaSouth Africa South Africa19
2Richie McCawNew Zealand New Zealand17
3Christian CullenNew Zealand New Zealand16
4Joe RokocokoNew Zealand New Zealand15
5Adam Ashley-CooperAustralia Australia13
Doug HowlettNew Zealand New Zealand
7Jean de VilliersSouth Africa South Africa11
Ma'a NonuNew Zealand New Zealand
Ben SmithNew Zealand New Zealand
10Jaque FourieSouth Africa South Africa9
Cory JaneNew Zealand New Zealand
Justin MarshallNew Zealand New Zealand
Stirling MortlockAustralia Australia
Julian SaveaNew Zealand New Zealand
Lote TuqiriAustralia Australia

Updated: 8 August 2015

Broadcasting rights

In Australia, the Tri-Nations was televised by Fox Sports. They jointly televised it with Seven Network between 1996 and 2010 and in 2011 by Nine Network. Fox Sports has televised the newly named Rugby Championship in Australia since 2012. They jointly televised it with Nine Network that year and Network Ten since 2013. Setanta Sports broadcast live matches of The Rugby Championship in Asia. Sky Sports shows all games live in the UK and Ireland.

See also


  1. 1 2 "History of the Tri Nations". Archived from the original on 20 October 2006. Retrieved 27 October 2006.
  2. "About the Tri Nations". Retrieved 27 October 2006.
  3. ""The Rugby Championship" to replace Tri Nations". Retrieved 8 November 2011.
  4. 1 2 "Lomu clinches Tri-Nations epic". BBC. 2000-07-15. Retrieved 27 October 2006.
  5. "Tri Nations rugby, 2000". Retrieved 27 October 2006.
  6. "Argentina accuse New Zealand of dirty tricks". Retrieved 27 October 2006.
  7. "Argentina invited to join the Tri-Nations",, 14 September 2009.
  8. "IRB boss wants Argentina in Tri-Nations". Retrieved 27 October 2006.
  9. "Six Nations would be magnificent seven with us, pleads Pichot", Western Mail, 19 June 2006.
  10. Cain, Nick (2007-02-25). "Ambitious Argentina poised to secure TriNations place". London: The Sunday Times. Retrieved 2007-02-26.
  11. "Pumas will stay crouched until 2010". 2007-08-13. Retrieved 2007-10-11.
  12. 1 2 Associated Press (2007-11-08). "Pumas push for Six Nations". Rugby Heaven. Archived from the original on July 5, 2008. Retrieved 2007-12-22.
  13. 1 2 Gallagher, Brendan (2008-01-02). "Argentina's amateur decision angers Pichot". London: Retrieved 2008-01-07.
  14. "Argentina invited to join the Tri-Nations". ESPN scrum.
  15. "Argentina edge nearer Four Nations". ESPN scrum.
  17. "Rugby Resultados, Noticias, Estadsticas, Posiciones, Equipos - ESPN Deportes".
  18. "Rugby lays foundations for continued growth" (Press release). International Rugby Board. 2007-11-30. Retrieved 2007-12-03.
  19. "Pumas have to wait: NZRU". 2007-11-30. Archived from the original on July 25, 2008. Retrieved 2007-12-05.
  20. South African Press Association (2009-02-04). "Home grown Pumas finally turn pro". Retrieved 2009-02-04.
  21. Deges, Frankie. "Argentina is now part of Rugby Championship". Buenos Aires Herald. Retrieved 23 November 2011.
  22. "Rules for Determining the Winner of the Rugby Championship". SANZAR. 16 August 2012. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
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