Argentina’s Super Rugby hopefuls, the Jaguares, have found themselves in an interesting position, taking on the Crusaders at home in the Super Rugby final this Saturday, and this huge task couldn’t be more fitting.
Since their introduction into the competition, the South Americans have been overlooked and underestimated by many, slowly working their way to the calibre required of the tournament, building a squad packed with depth and excitement, and beating some big-name teams in the dark – often being overshadowed by other more publicised weekend results. So, its a poetic justification that the Jaguares end up in the final, surprising many how they ended up there, but with a quick look back at their season, it all makes sense.
Super Rugby is all about scoring tries and having a solid defence; and while that may sound as on-the-nose obvious as it can get, many teams fail to hold down both these tried-and-tested rugby pillars throughout the duration of the tournament.
While some notable teams – the Bulls, Brumbies, and Hurricanes come to mind – managed to look like hopefuls in the opening rounds, they faltered in the playoffs to teams who kept the momentum up and their foot on the pedal. The Crusaders have set the pace for this in recent seasons, and have become the archetype of how to win play-off rugby encounters.
However, in classic Argentine style, the Jaguares seemed to have taken their time to find their groove, but the men in orange have finally built the perfect rugby identity for themselves – a blend of ruthless physicality and fast-paced attacking. Some of the best tries of the season took place across the length of their Buenos Aires home-ground, yet many South Africans didn’t stay up late enough to witness them. Their style might be somewhat more callous than other teams, but it’s this high-risk rugby built on a solid foundation that has worked for the Jaguares.
Of course, there’s no denying the Crusaders are a tough-ask for the Argentines. The defending champions just don’t seem to have many weaknesses – and despite losing key players to retirement, transfers, or injury in recent seasons, they just manage to adapt and pull then next big superstar from their seemingly never-ending roster. But, every big team has its shortcomings, and we’ve seen complacency slip into the Crusaders from time to time, with a notable moment being the 42-25 quarter-final loss at the hands of the Lions at Ellis Park in 2016. Despite being dominant throughout the season, they were caught off-guard by an early surge by the Lions and never found their way back into the match.
This complacency could bode well against the visitors. The Jaguares have thrived on taking on the big teams, and while they’ve slipped up in the dying moments in many of these encounters, they seem to live off the David vs Goliath battles, although this time, David has far more in their favour than many would like to admit. Could it be time for a new king of the jungle?