Tri Nations Rugby Union Championship History

Whilst the rugby playing nations of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have played each other in competitive rugby matches for over 100 years. The Wallabies, Springboks and All Blacks had regularly gone on tour to their Southern Hemisphere rivals throughout the twentieth century; however, it was not until 1996 that any formal structure was applied to the meetings between the three teams.

When the sport of Rugby Union turned professional in 1995, spelling the end of the amateur era at the top level, a new window of commercial opportunity was opened for the governing bodies of rugby playing countries around the world. As a result, the Rugby Football Unions\' of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand came together to form the governing body of SANZAR, who in turn initiated the idea of a an annual test competition between all three teams, similar to the Northern Hemisphere\'s equivalent the Five Nations, which has since become the Six Nations Championship. SANZAR took full advantage of the new professional rules of the game to negotiate a multi million dollar television deal which would see the newly founded Tri Nations Championship broadcast around the world. Television has played an important role in the growth and popularity of the Tri Nations Series, allowing rugby supporters around the world to watch all the action live. This has firmly put the South African, New Zealand and Australian brands of rugby on the international map, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, where audience figures have grown year on year and bookmakers in countries such as Britain and Ireland now report huge betting interest on the Tri Nations Series.

The first ever Tri Nations game was played at Athletic Park in Wellington, where New Zealand beat Australia 43 - 6 and since that game it would appear that New Zealand rarely loosened their grip on the Tri Nations Championship since. The All Blacks won the first two Tri Nations Championships in emphatic fashion, going undefeated in the competition until the opening game of the 1998 series when they went down 24 - 16 to Australia at the MMC in Melbourne. South Africa went on to win the 1998 Series and New Zealand failed to win a single game that year before returning to winning ways in 1999.

Australia won the Tri Nations for the first time in 2000 when they clinched the championship following two breath taking matches against rivals New Zealand, the first of which New Zealand won 39 - 35 in front of an attendance of 109,874, a world record for a rugby match at Stadium Australia in Sydney. Australia got revenge when running out 25 - 24 winners during the return game in Wellington.

The Wallabies won the series for a second year running in 2001, during a period were they threatened to overhaul the All Blacks supremacy. The 2001 series saw the first and only draw in a Tri Nations game when Australian and South Africa both scored fourteen points at the Subiaco Oval, Perth.

New Zealand rediscovered their winning form during the 2002 and 2003 championships. In 2002, South Africa stopped Australia from making it a hat-trick of Tri Nations Championships in the final test of the series, winning an exciting game 33 - 31 at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, a result which handed the Tri Nations trophy to the All Blacks. New Zealand won all four games of the 2003 series to seal another back-to-back success, this is the last time any of the teams record a clean sweep of victories in the competition.

South Africa was the last team other than the All Blacks to win the Tri Nations when they won the 2004 series. All three teams finished with a 2-2 record, but the Springboks managed to clinch the trophy following a dramatic win against Australia at Kings Park, Durban finishing top of the table thanks to an additional bonus point.

Since 2005 New Zealand\'s All Black\'s have once again taken a strangle hold on their Southern Hemisphere rivals, winning the past three Tri Nations championships. The 2006 championship was expanded from the previous six match format (each team playing four games), with the number of matches increasing to six games each, with each country playing three matches against their opponents.

The 2007 Tri Nations series reverted back to the four game format allowing teams for more time to prepare for the World Cup in France. The six game series will restart for the 2008 Tri Nations Fixtures.

The 2007 series was shadowed in controversy following the South Africans resting many keys players for the Australian leg of the series, however, the games went ahead with the South African getting beat by the Wallabies. Normal service is set to resume in 2008, and with the full commitment from all teams and rivalries resuming on the pitch another fascinating chapter is set to be told in the Tri Nations story.