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Tri Nations (rugby union)
Current competition: 2009 Tri Nations Series
Tri Nations.jpg
Tri Nations logo
Sport Rugby union
Instituted 1996
Number of teams 3
Country  Australia
 New Zealand
 South Africa
 Argentina (potentially starts playing in 2012)
Holders  South Africa (2009)

The Tri Nations is an international rugby union competition that is contested annually by Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The competition is organized by SANZAR, a consortium formed by the three countries' rugby governing bodies – the Australian Rugby Union, the New Zealand Rugby Union and the South African Rugby Union.

The Tri Nations will become the Four Nations in 2012 should the inclusion of Argentina as the fourth team go ahead. Argentina has been invited to join but there are a number of conditions that they have to fulfill.[1]

The series is played on a home-and-away basis. From the first tournament in 1996 through 2005, the three teams played each other twice. Since then, each team has played the others three times, except in the Rugby World Cup year of 2007 when the series reverted to a double round-robin. Since the inception of the series the games played between Australia and New Zealand also go toward determining the winner of the Bledisloe Cup each year. The Freedom Cup is contested between New Zealand and South Africa, and the Mandela Challenge Plate between Australia and South Africa.





Australia and New Zealand first played each other in 1903. South Africa toured both nations in 1921 but there was never any formal competition in place, unlike the Home Nations (now known as the Six Nations Championship) in the northern hemisphere. For years the southern nations longed for a competition like the Home Nations.[1] The three nations met sporadically with Australia and New Zealand meeting regularly to contest the Bledisloe Cup. The birth of the Rugby World Cup in 1987 was a step closer to the modern-day Tri Nations Series—South Africa did not compete in the World Cup until 1995 due to apartheid.

The final acceptance of professionalism in rugby union launched the Tri Nations concept.[1] Nearing the completion of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, multi-million 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]


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.[3] 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,[3] and the end competition thought by some to be the best Tri Nations ever at the time.[4]

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.


The competition was expanded in 2006 and sees 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 have been persistent rumours about the inclusion of Argentina[5] and this has been finally formalised 14 September 2009 when it was announced that Argentina would become a part of the competition in the year 2012 [6]. There have also been rumours about a Pacific Islands team being included too.[7]

Until now Argentina was the only top nation that had no regular competition, and some, among them former Pumas captain Agustín Pichot,[8] have even spoken of them joining the Six Nations. However, a spokeperson said: "We belong in a tournament in the southern hemisphere and not in an expanded Six Nations". The inclusion of Argentina does 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[9] 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:

  • Division of broadcast revenue, which is currently shared equally by the three SANZAR countries.
  • At the time, the biggest stumbling block was possibly the Argentine Rugby Union (UAR). The Times noted that some UAR members were "deeply attached to amateurism", adding that the IRB had a blueprint on the table for a South American provincial competition similar to SANZAR's Super 14, featuring six Argentine provincial sides and one each from Uruguay and Chile, but UAR had yet to approve it.

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.[10] Domestic rugby in Argentina is still amateur; in fact, the UAR constitution specifically prohibited professional rugby in the country until December 2007,[11] and even now does not allow for a professional league.[12] Because of this, a large majority of the Pumas play for European club teams, which would likely create further scheduling conflicts.

Later developments have made the admission of Argentina to the competition possible sometime around 2012. 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."[13] 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.[11] 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.[14] 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.[12] 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.[15]


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 Tri Nations opens after the completion of the Super 14 competition for the year because players from the SANZAR countries are involved in both.

The winner is determined by a points system:

  • 4 points for a win
  • 2 points for a draw
  • 0 points for a loss

"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:

  • The Attacking bonus point by scoring four or more tries in the match, regardless of the final result.
  • The Defending bonus point by losing by seven points (a converted try) or less.

A victorious team can collect either 4 or 5 points, depending on whether or not it scored 4 tries. 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 the first tiebreaker is point differential, followed by number of tries during the series. However, the Tri Nations has yet to finish in a tie for the top spot.


Year Winner Games
1996  New Zealand 4 4 0 0 119 60 (+) 59 1 17
1997  New Zealand 4 4 0 0 159 109 (+) 50 2 18
1998  South Africa 4 4 0 0 80 54 (+) 26 1 17
1999  New Zealand 4 3 0 1 103 61 (+) 42 0 12
2000  Australia 4 3 0 1 104 86 (+) 18 2 14
2001  Australia 4 2 1 1 81 75 (+) 6 1 11
2002  New Zealand 4 3 0 1 97 65 (+) 32 3 15
2003  New Zealand 4 4 0 0 142 65 (+) 77 2 18
2004  South Africa 4 2 0 2 110 98 (+) 12 3 11
2005  New Zealand 4 3 0 1 111 86 (+) 25 3 15
2006  New Zealand 6 5 0 1 179 112 (+) 67 3 23
2007  New Zealand 4 3 0 1 100 59 (+) 41 1 13
2008  New Zealand 6 4 0 2 152 106 (+) 46 3 19
2009  South Africa 6 5 0 1 158 130 (+) 28 1 21

All time table

Nation Games Points Bonus
played won drawn lost for against difference
 New Zealand 62 42 0 20 1657 1220 +437 27 195 9
 South Africa 62 26 1 35 1279 1539 -260 20 126 3
 Australia 62 24 1 37 1277 1454 -177 30 128 2

Updated 22 September 2009 3

Records and statistics

  • Accurate up to and including week 9 of the 2009 Tri Nations Series.
  • Active players (for national side) highlighted in bold.
Top point scorers [16]
Points Player Tries Conv. Pen. Drop
363 New Zealand Dan Carter 5 43 82 2
328 New Zealand Andrew Mehrtens 1 34 82 3
271 Australia Matt Burke 7 19 65 1
210 South Africa Percy Montgomery 4 26 43 3
198 Australia Stirling Mortlock 9 21 37
193 Australia Matt Giteau 7 25 33 3
153 New Zealand Carlos Spencer 3 21 32
95 South Africa Morne Steyn 1 6 23 3
94 South Africa Braam van Straaten 5 28
80 New Zealand Christian Cullen 16

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Expansion of the Tri Nations". Retrieved 14 September 2009. 
  2. ^ "About the Tri Nations".,22036.html. Retrieved 27 October 2006. 
  3. ^ a b "Lomu clinches Tri-Nations epic". BBC. Retrieved 27 October 2006. 
  4. ^ "Tri Nations rugby, 2000". Retrieved 27 October 2006. 
  5. ^ "Argentina accuse New Zealand of dirty tricks". Retrieved 27 October 2006. 
  6. ^ "Argentina invited to join the Tri-Nations",, 14 September 2009.
  7. ^ "IRB boss wants Argentina in Tri-Nations".,12234.html. Retrieved 27 October 2006. 
  8. ^ "Six Nations would be magnificent seven with us, pleads Pichot", Western Mail, 19 June 2006.
  9. ^ Cain, Nick (2007-02-25). "Ambitious Argentina poised to secure TriNations place". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 2007-02-26. 
  10. ^ "Pumas will stay crouched until 2010". 2007-08-13. Retrieved 2007-10-11. 
  11. ^ a b Associated Press (2007-11-08). "Pumas push for Six Nations". Rugby Heaven. Retrieved 2007-12-22. 
  12. ^ a b Gallagher, Brendan (2008-01-02). "Argentina's amateur decision angers Pichot". Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  13. ^ International Rugby Board (2007-11-30). "Rugby lays foundations for continued growth". Press release. Retrieved 2007-12-03. 
  14. ^ "Pumas have to wait: NZRU". 2007-11-30. Retrieved 2007-12-05. 
  15. ^ South African Press Association (2009-02-04). "Home grown Pumas finally turn pro". Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  16. ^ "Statsguru / Test matches / Player records (trophy: Tri Nations, ordered by: total points scored (descending))".;orderby=points;template=results;trophy=27;type=player. Retrieved 2009-09-12. 
  17. ^ "Statsguru / Test matches / Player records (trophy: Tri Nations, ordered by: total tries scored (descending))".;orderby=tries;template=results;trophy=27;type=player. Retrieved 2009-09-12. 

External links


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