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History of the Tri Nations

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Australia and New Zealand first met in 1903 and South Africa toured Australasia for the first time in 1921. But for the best part of the twentieth century the southern hemisphere superpowers only met intermittently and could only look on in envy at Rugby’s premier annual international tournament, the Five Nations Championship.

For years, the nations that were formerly known as The Dominions longed for a competition of their own to compare with the European tournament. It was the dawn of the Rugby World Cup era in 1987 that finally gave them an official title to focus their ambitions on, but it was not until after the third World Cup, in South Africa in 1995, that the Tri Nations concept was born.

The impetus behind its launch was rugby union’s final acceptance of professionalism. Commercially driven, the new competition derived from the multi-million pound negotiations that the South African, New Zealand and Australian Rugby Unions (SANZAR) made with Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp television company during the four-week World Cup event.

A ten-year deal worth £360 million to the SANZAR nations was announced on the eve of the 1995 final and the competition, which features the three nations in a round-robin of home and away fixtures, took off in 1996 when New Zealand made a clean sweep of four victories to secure the inaugural title. An interesting departure was the competition’s bonus point system that encouraged the nations to play attacking rugby. One additional point is awarded to a team for scoring four or more tries, and one to a team losing by fewer than or equal to seven points.

From the start, the Tri Nations was brilliantly successful and attracted thousands of spectators as well as millions of television viewers. The All Blacks’ revolutionary play in the 1996 tournament was the blueprint that all international teams endeavoured to copy in the years that followed. New Zealand again carried off the title without dropping a point in 1997 before South Africa, the then reigning world champions, collected a Grand Slam of victories in 1998 when the All Blacks, astonishingly, lost all four of their matches.

That year’s competition included one of international rugby’s most amazing comebacks when South Africa, after trailing 5-23 to the All Blacks early in the second half of the Durban Test, scored 19 points without reply to win by the odd point in 47.

New Zealand, however, bounced back to take the 1999 tournament by winning the first three of their four matches. The final match of the season was at the new Stadium Australia where a world record attendance of 107,042 for a Test saw the Wallabies give notice of their 1999 World Cup potential by inflicting a then record 28-7 defeat on the All Blacks.

Australia were able to get their name on the Tri Nations trophy for the first time in 2000 after arguably some of the greatest rugby spectacles ever. Australia and New Zealand combined to produce perhaps the most exciting action ever witnessed on a rugby field, on two occasions, and South Africa were not completely outshone. The statistics tell us that Australia won the 2000 Tri Nations, New Zealand came second and South Africa third. But in reality there was precious little between the three sides, home advantage not counting for much as matches in Sydney, Wellington, Johannesburg and Durban went down to the wire.

London: 12.50 hrs Friday 20th Oct
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