Rugby Championship/Bledisloe Cup

O’Neill: Pumas will field best players

O’Neill: Pumas will field best players

ARGENTINA WILL be able to call on its top players for next year’s inaugural Rugby Championship.

The Pumas will contest the annual tournament with Tri Nations foes New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

Player availability had been a major obstacle to overcome in getting the tournament off the ground, with many of Argentina’s top players playing their trade with European clubs, who are reluctant to release them for international duty.

As a result, there had been fears the South Americas would field weakened teams in the tournament.

But Australian Rugby Union boss John O’Neill has alleviated those fears, saying the Pumas will have access to their best players.

“The IRB, with our help, changed the regulations relating to the availability, so opened the window such that the clubs had to release the players to play in the Rugby Championship,” O’Neill told AAP.

Argentina, who were beaten quarter-finalists at the Rugby World Cup, are expected to struggle in next year’s competition as they come to grips with clashing with three of best nations in the world.

O’Neill, however, was confident they would be competitive.

“On the day, the way they play, they can choke you to death," he says.

“I'm confident we're going to see an enhanced Rugby Championship.”

The Wallabies and All Blacks will kickoff next year’s tournament in a match that doubles as a Bledisloe Cup test.

The first two Bledisloe Cup tests – the other is on August 25 at Eden Park – will be incorporated in the new competition.

However, the third – to be played in Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on October 20 – will not be part of the tournament.

It means the first two tests are a week apart, while there is a two-month wait before the potential decider.

A third Bledisloe Cup test each year is a long-term prospect, with New Zealand and Australia to alternate hosting of the fixture.

The Wallabies’ other home games are against South Africa in Perth on September 8 and Argentina on the Gold Coast on September 15.

The test against the Pumas will be the first Australia has played on the Gold Cost.

Venues for South Africa and Argentina’s home games have yet to be confirmed.

Fixtures have been scheduled in two-week blocks with week-long travel byes in between to balance additional travel requirements due to the inclusion of a fourth team.

Click here to see full 2012 Rugby Championship/Bledisloe Cup draw.

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