The “South Africans”
If ever there was a team that promised much but simply failed to deliver, it is the Jaguares from Argentina.
When they joined the Super Rugby competition in 2016, they arrived with a team loaded with international players. On any Saturday they could field a team where every single player and every reserve had a couple of international caps on the mantelpiece back home. Their Pumas team had finished fourth at the recent 2015 Rugby World Cup, and were ranked 4th in the World Rugby rankings.
All this added up to a potentially formidable opponent in the Super scheme of things. A Test side playing Super Rugby! Many, myself included, expected them to be contenders for a playoff spot in their first season in the competition. Surely the team that had contested a semi-final in the Rugby World Cup a scant four months before would easily step into Super Rugby and maintain the form and consistency that made them such difficult opponents on the international fields?
It was not to be.
The Jaguares proceeded to implode in so many different ways. Their previously much vaunted scrumming power deserted them. Their game plan and structures vanished. Most tellingly, their on-field discipline evaporated like mist before a mid-summer sun. They finished 13th on the log.
Their 2017 season was not much better. They did improve their final log position from 13th to 10th, but that was not a mark of their improvement. Rather, it was a measure of the predicament of Australian rugby and the weirdness of the inclusion of a Japanese team in the competition, and calling them Africans to boot! Their on-field discipline remained atrocious, their scrum a joke, and their open play unstructured and kinda desperate.
2018 sees Mario Ledesma take over from Raul Perez as head coach. There is a suggestion, a hope really, that he will bring the discipline and game plans the Jaguares so desperately need. He will have his work cut out for him. His Jaguares need a good year, else the home support will continue to evaporate and the rationale for the Jaguares inclusion in Super Rugby will be called into question yet again.
They simply have to bring something to the party!
In 2017 the Jaguares did manage to win three more games that in 2016, elevating them three places on the final log, but still 9 points off challenging for a play-off slot. Finishing just 5 points ahead of the Kings was not worth the effort, the travel, the fatigue, and the cost of playing in Super Rugby.
Jaguares fans will hope Ledesma’s arrival from assisting Michael Cheika with the Wallabies will give them a new lease of life. The arrival of Tomas Cubelli from the Brumbies is also a positive move.
They’ve lost Ramiro Herrera and Lucas Noguera Paz to European rugby, while Santiago Cordero is at Exeter.
The Jaguares begin on the road at the Stormers and Lions, followed by four home games on the trot. They face the Hurricanes, the Waratahs, the Reds, and then the Lions. They will be banking on at least two wins in that four-week cycle, probably targeting the Waratahs and the Reds. A bye week is followed by yet another home game, against the Crusaders, and then it is four games on the road again, visiting the Rebels, Brumbies, Blues, and Chiefs. Another bye follows, and the season wraps with three home games against the Bulls, Sharks, and Stormers, before they finish away to the Bulls and the Sharks.
Agustin Creevy has been relieved of the captaincy and will be able to focus on his game. His leadership was sometimes called into question when he was the Jaguare with the worst disciplinary record in terms of conceding penalties. Pablo Matera takes over the captain’s armband.
Will the Puma/Jaguares step up this year and play the way everyone knows they can, or will we see another season of journeyman performances? I would suggest that the arrival of Mario Ledesma as head coach will resolve some of their scrummaging problems, he is considered one of the real masters of the scrum. Will he also infuse a new discipline to their game, and bring some structure to their tactics and strategies?
The jury is out on the Jaguares!
After tipping them in 2016, and then suggesting that they would improve substantially in 2017, I am adopting the twice-bitten-three-times-shy approach. I cannot see them challenging in the play-offs.