Everything you need to know about the Rugby Championship

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

We look at the Rugby Championship, its history that includes the Tri-Nations, past winners and much more in this handy piece on the tournament.

The Rugby Championship

If it sounds a little pompous, it has earned the right over the passage of time. Only once has the world champion or world number one team not been one of the sides in this tournament, which started rather more meekly as the Tri-Nations.

Established shortly after the onset of professionalism to belatedly ensure South Africa, New Zealand and Australia finally got to play each other regularly, as well as to provide a coherent alternative to the (then) Five Nations, the tournament has regularly provided a feast of fast-paced rugby and a welcome filler of the off-season in the north.

It was – also rather belatedly – expanded to include Argentina in 2012, whereupon it took its somewhat generic name. The quality and pace of the action has not suffered, even if the hegemony of New Zealand in recent years has made it seem a little stale at times.

Rugby Championship history

The tournament was a no-brainer to those VIPs who had been plotting to take the game professional and using the noise of the World Cup in 1995 as a smokescreen to get some signatures on contracts. SANZAR was formed, the tournament created and a 10-year deal worth some $450m signed. Rugby went professional shortly after, and the following year the tournament opened with New Zealand trouncing Australia 43-6 in Wellington. But the two matches everybody was waiting for were the rematches of the World Cup final of 1995 between New Zealand and South Africa. New Zealand won both of those too and claimed an impressive clean sweep of the first edition.

It took two more years for someone to finally beat the All Blacks, who, having clean swept the first two tournaments, lost all four matches in 1998 – including blowing a 23-5 lead in South Africa in the final 15 minutes. 1999 saw order restored. After a two-year interlude in which reigning world champions Australia, building up to their own World Cup in 2003, were champions once under outgoing coach Rod Macqueen and once under incoming Eddie Jones, New Zealand won in 2002 and have only failed to win five times in the 20 interceding years since. Three of those have been World Cup years, when the tournament is occasionally truncated and when players are very often rotated for freshness.

As well as being the showpiece of the new professional era, there have been several other firsts. In 2000, a crowd of 109,874 people were there to watch Jonah Lomu et al win a thriller 39-35. The competition was elongated from a simple six-match home and away format to an unbalanced nine-match format in 2006, which pleased nobody. Most importantly though, the stringent criteria for Argentina’s inclusion laid down in 2007 by SANZAR and World Rugby ensured that Argentinean rugby was thoroughly professionalised. This in turn led to the Pumas’ first-ever formal inclusion in a professional tournament outside the World Cup in 2012, a move that pleased everybody.

Rugby Championship winners

New Zealand have won the tournament an awful lot: 19 times out of 27 to be precise. South Africa and Australia have won it four times each; Argentina are yet to win it in their first 11 years but continue to improve competitively. New Zealand’s record is phenomenal since Argentina were admitted: they’ve won 45, drawn two and lost only seven games (not including pandemic year 2020).

The Rugby Championship on TV

The Rugby Championship is the darling of satellite channels everywhere, from Sky in the UK, through Canal+ in France, all the way to the participating countries themselves. Fox has had the rights in Australia and Sky in New Zealand, while SuperSport is the place to watch it in South Africa. BeIn takes care of north Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and RugbyPass subscription service by and large takes care of the rest.

Rugby Championship tickets

These are reasonably easy to get hold of from the hosting venues in all four countries, simply visit the host stadium or provincial union or national union’s website. General rule of thumb is that the more important the game, the harder it will be to come by tickets, but these days the games are plenty and sell-outs are rare.

Rugby Championship rules

The tournament relies on the modern scoring system of four for a win, two for a draw, none for a loss and bonus points for either scoring three tries more than the opposition or losing by less than seven. After that, whoever is top of the table is the winner.

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