IRB announces grudge match between hemispheres

IRB chairman Vernon Pugh said the date and venue for the inaugural match had still to be decided but added that the first game would be held in either June or November 2002.
“This is the game people want to see. It’ll be a fantastic addition to the rugby calendar,” Pugh said.
“It’ll be an annual match that gives us the opportunity to showcase rugby to the whole world.”
Although the details must still be worked out, Pugh said the major rugby playing countries were all in favour of the concept and had agreed the profits should go to the smaller, developing nations.
He said at least four countries, including one from Asia, had already submitted bids to stage the match but the final decision would not be made until later this year.
Pugh said the IRB would appoint the coaches and selection panels for each team but wanted a truly worldwide contest.
He said that while SANZAR teams South Africa, New Zealand and Australia would provide the bulk of the southern hemisphere side, players from Argentina and the Pacific Islands would also be considered.
Similarly, while the northern hemisphere team would be mostly drawn from the Six Nations, players from countries such as Canada and the United States would be available.
“This won’t be a Europe against SANZAR match, it’ll be a world game,” Pugh said.
Other sports, including soccer, have had mixed fortunes with grudge matches between the north and south but Pugh said rugby had a better chance of succeeding because of the intense rivalry between the hemispheres.
Southern hemisphere teams have won all four editions of the World Cup and have generally had the better of the northern hemisphere sides for the past few decades.
But the British and Irish Lions have shown that their combined strength makes for a more even contest.
The Lions beat the then world champions South Africa in a three-match series in 1997 and last weekend won the opening match of their three game series with current world champions Australia.
The IRB said it wanted to limit the number of matches the top players were committed to because of the dangers of burnout but would support a one-off global clash.
“I know it’s been tried before in other sports where there’s no real tradition between north and south but in rugby there definitely is,” Pugh said. “North v South has a special position in rugby.”
Pugh said there was also a distinct possibility the rivalry could be extended to club level with an annual match between the Super 12 and European champions.
The Australian Rugby Union said the ACT Brumbies were already negotiating with English club Leicester for a game in January