It was announced a few weeks ago that, following a deal between SANZAR and the Union Argentina de Rugby (UAR), Argentina's home fixture against Australia in the 2016 Rugby Championship would be held at London's Twickenham Stadium, not in Buenos Aires. The fixture scheduled for October 8 will represent the first time a Rugby Championship game will be held outside one of the four participating nations' borders.
Tickets will reportedly start at £45 a head and this will inevitably boost gate money for the UAR as opposed to if the game was held in their home country.
This move is intended to expand the game and expose the elite southern hemisphere teams to crowds around the world. In the announcement SANZAR CEO Andy Marinos said the following; 'While we witness the daring and exciting brand of rugby played by southern hemisphere teams on a regular basis, last year's World Cup well and truly showcased that skill and flair to the rest of the world.'
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He went on to say, 'Now, we are thrilled to announce that two of our national teams, Argentina and Australia, will be returning to the United Kingdom some 12 months later to contest what will be a historic chapter of the Rugby Championship.'
'Aligned with our intent to take this product across the globe, Argentina have embraced this by moving one of their home fixtures to Twickenham thereby affording an ever-growing fan base in the United Kingdom with the opportunity to see two of the world's most entertaining teams to compete for one of the world's toughest trophies in front of a passionate rugby crowd at Twickenham.'
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This is an absolute disgrace and here is why.
Firstly, it is an obvious money making scheme to boost the least wealthy union in the Rugby Championship and make SANZAR some extra cash on the side. SANZAR have targeted the weakest union and dangled a rather large carrot in front of them in order to make this happen.
There is simply no way in which New Zealand, South Africa or Australia would agree to give up a home fixture of theirs to go and play abroad, it would draw responses of extreme outrage from supporters and local television broadcasters who would miss out on covering the game as a consequence.
This fixture arguably represents Argentina's best chance of a win in the competition, and now they are taking their home advantage away, the intimidating crowd will not be present and the less than perfect playing surface seen in Buenos Aires will clearly not be an issue at Twickenham. The decision also denies the passionate Puma's supporters the chance to see their team in action in their home country.
Imagine the backlash if one of England's Six Nations home games was moved to Sydney or Cape Town, home fans would be furious that they would not be able to attend the match.
And all in the name of expanding the game across the globe. Just think about that for a moment, the aim is expansion, but the fixture is being played in England, a stalwart of world rugby that has their own team to support and where rugby was invented. So how exactly is this expansion?
SANZAR have made some strange calls with regards to expansion of late, including having the new Japanese Super Rugby franchise playing half of their home games in Singapore, where the stadium has been near empty every game and it is denying them the chance to establish a home support in Japan.
If expansion of the Rugby Championship is important, and there's no reason why it should be because it's a competition exclusively between the Southern nations, then why not take the games to places where the game is on the rise and needs awareness like the USA or Japan. England does not need, nor deserve to host this fixture, their fans will see all the southern hemisphere nations take to the British Isles in November for the Autumn Internationals regardless.
Why do fans in England deserve to see the high calibre of the Rugby Championship but Argentina's own fans don't?
Even if it is a full crowd at Twickenham the atmosphere will be like a Barbarians game. There will be a low-key buzz and it will be a serious letdown compared to the original fixture being in Buenos Aires, where the atmosphere would be hostile and tough for the Wallabies.
Sure, the fans will cheer for the underdog, Mexican waves will ensue and meaningless renditions of 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' will ring around a few times but is that carnival-type feel really better than not moving the fixture and hosting it where it is meant to be in the first place?
The game is ever growing in Argentina and it is outrageous that their own union are playing a part in taking away the exposure of the high-end product that is Rugby Championship rugby from their home fans.
There is no reason to start playing these games outside of the four core nations, the fans in the northern hemisphere will get their chance to see the best teams in the world when they tour in November so it should be left at that.
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