Argentina will play South Africa in Johannesburg on Aug. 9 in the first move to include the World Cup semi-finalists in southern hemisphere competition, South Africa Rugby said in a statement on Wednesday.
A full-strength Pumas side will travel for the World Cup semi-final rematch against the eventual champions in between the away and home legs of the Springboks' Tri-nations campaign.
"(This) is the first fixture in a commitment by the Sanzar nations to ultimately incorporate the South American country into their competitions," the statement read, referring to the body grouping the big three in the southern hemisphere -- Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
"Argentina have confirmed that they will have their strongest possible team available for the match as they have secured the release of their top players based in Europe," South Africa Rugby managing director Jonathan Stones added.
"I'm sure they will be going all out to beat South Africa for the first time."
South Africa and Argentina have met 12 times in the last 15 years, with the Pumas yet to register a victory.
There will be added importance to their 13th meeting with seedings for the 2011 Rugby World Cup based on the International Rugby Board's (IRB) rankings, as of December 1, 2008. South Africa are ranked first and Argentina third.
"The new seeding arrangements for the Rugby World Cup mean that every test result this season will be vital and Argentina will be determined to hold on to their top-four ranking," Stones said.
The Ellis Park test will be part of the celebrations for former South African president Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday.
AdvertisementAsian rugby officials have formally launched a flagship pan-Asian annual rugby tournament modelled on Europe's Six Nations in a bid to accelerate the sport's development in the world's most populous continent.
The Asian Five Nations series which kicks off in April, will feature five 15-a-side Asian teams including top-ranked Japan, the Arabian Gulf, Hong Kong, South Korea and Kazakhstan.
"The tournament is vital for the development and expansion of rugby throughout Asia and will give our elite players the chance to perform in front of a significantly expanded TV audience," Asian Rugby Football Union honorary secretary general Ross Mitchell told a news conference.
While teams in Europe's Six Nations are fixed, the Asian tournament allows the possibility of promotion and relegation.
A culturally diverse scrum of 20 other Asian nations, ranging from China and India to Iran, Uzbekistan, Cambodia and Guam will have the chance to fight their way into the top five.
"I think it will have a positive effect," Former English winger Rory Underwood told Reuters by telephone from England.
But Underwood, of mixed English and Chinese parentage, said Asia still had a long way to go in producing teams good enough to compete on the world stage in events like the Rugby World Cup.
"It's going to take a long, long time, it's not going to happen overnight," England's all time record try-scorer added.
However, Japan's Daisuke Ohata, a leading Asian rugby veteran expressed optimism the Asian Five Nations would help "bridge the gap between the game here and the world".
The four-yearly Rugby World Cup, billed as the world's third-largest sporting event is dominated by goliaths like South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia -- with Japan being the only Asian team ever to qualify.
Japan launched a high-profile bid to host what would have been Asia's first Rugby World Cup in 2011, but lost out to New Zealand in a shock result, provoking allegations of cronyism among the old boys club of traditional rugby nations who voted, and a major lost opportunity to promote the game globally.
But rugby's world body said Asia could yet have its day.
"Japan would have loved to have hosted it, but the good thing is they're trying to go for it again (in 2015)," said Jarrad Gallagher, the Asia development manager for the International Rugby Board or IRB.
"A World Cup in Asia would be wonderful, it would have incredible potential," he told Reuters by phone in Japan.
"I wouldn't say it's a last frontier, but it's certainly an untapped frontier," Gallagher added, referring to the massive potential in populous countries like India and China.
The Asian Five Nations, sponsored by global banking giant HSBC, replaces the biennial Asian Rugby Football Tournament, with the IRB to commit half a million dollars each year in funding.
With certain games in the tournament sanctioned as qualifiers for New Zealand's Rugby World Cup in 2011, there's been a sliver of hope that Asia might squeeze in a second team.
"If we have more than one Asian representative in the world cup that'd be fantastic," Underwood added.
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