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New Zealand explains support for Pichot in World Rugby vote

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand Rugby says it backed challenger Agustin Pichot against incumbent Bill Beaumont in the contest for the chairmanship of World Rugby out of frustration at the governance of the sport's international governing body.

NZR Chairman Brent Impey said his organization has been frustrated for “many years” with World Rugby’s policies and direction and it supported Pichot, currently Beaumont’s deputy, as a reform candidate.

New Zealand, with SANZAAR partners Australia, South Africa and Argentina, support Pichot. However, Beaumont has the support of the Six Nations group — England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy and France — and is expected to amass the 26 votes he needs to remain chairman. The outcome of the election will be announced May 12.

Impey told New Zealand’s annual meeting this week he hoped the winner of the election would heed calls for change.

“If you look back over many years, World Rugby has been very frustrating from a New Zealand perspective,” Impey said. “And I think the straw that broke the camel’s back was the Nations Championship, which we were strongly in favor of.”

World Rugby was unable to win the support it needed to establish the Nations Championship — a test championship involving all top tier nations — because of opposition from the Six Nations. New Zealand was a strong supporter of the championship and of a promotion-relegation system which would allow Tier Two nations such as Fiji to win promotion into the tournament.

Impey said New Zealand sought other reforms which Beaumont was reluctant to push in the face of northern hemisphere opposition. They included efforts to establish a unified global season, to give more opportunities to second-tier teams and to allow former Tier One players to play for Tier Two nations later in their careers.

The failure of Beaumont and World Rugby to get the Nations Championship off the ground angered New Zealand and other southern hemisphere nations.

Pichot was a scrumhalf and former captain of Argentina who played 71 tests for the Pumas from 1995-2007 and also played for clubs in Britain and France. He was a leading figure in Argentina's reform from amateur to professional status and its inclusion in SANZAAR. Beaumont was a lock who played 41 tests for England and the British and Irish Lions between 1975 and '82, and held the top job in English rugby before becoming World Rugby chairman in 2016.

“We see both candidates have got a platform of governance reform and that is also overdue," Impey said. “We have felt dissatisfaction over the lack of progress over the last few years, on a range of issues. While we have great respect for Bill Beaumont as an individual, this has become an issue where there has been a lot of self-protection from existing players versus those of us, particularly the SANZAAR nations, who want to see the game grow.”

And that, Impey said, is why NZR supported Pichot.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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