“We’re nervous that Argentina can win the damn thing. They have a lot of Test players in their Super Rugby team and they will be seriously competitive.”
So said ARU chief Bill Pulver last December. He was not alone.
Fox Sports Australia noted that the Jaguares had a dream draw, competing in a weak Africa two conference, and that they had far more talent than the Lions, for instance.
Indeed, the Jaguares have 29 players who have been in the Argentinean national squad, and 11 of the Pumas’ Rugby World Cup semifinalist starting fifteen are available for coach Raul Perez’ selection. Perez knows them well, because he has been Daniel Hourcade’s assistant with the Pumas since 2013.
Given that these same Puma-Jaguares play the best of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia every year in the Rugby Championship, surprise would not seem to be an issue, although Phil Waugh predicted the Jaguares would have the benefit of any surprise: “You face a Super Rugby team out of New Zealand, you know what to expect. You play a South African team, you know what to expect. But this Argentina team will be different.”
The Jaguares camped out in South Africa for their pre-season preparation. They played the Stormers (a 14-29 loss) and the Lions (a 49-28 win) as a warm up for their match against a Cheetahs team that has one regular Springbok: Lood de Jager.
Coach Perez said the right things to lower expectations, observing that none of his players had learned to play at this high a level “week in and week out.” But he also told New Zealand Stuff that the Jaguares fully expected to make the playoffs. TVNZ agreed: “This star-studded Jaguares team has the easiest run to the Super Rugby playoffs in the competition.”
The Jaguares beat the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein by one point.
Perez used national stars Joaquin Tuculet (28 Tests), Santiago Cordero (18 caps), Nicolas Sanchez (35 caps, with a deadly boot), Martin Landajo (53 caps), Leonardo Senatore (34 caps), Pablo Matera (22 caps), Thomas Lavanini (27 caps), Guido Petti (12 caps), Ramiro Herrera (20 caps), superb Pumas captain Agustin Creevy (45 caps), and Lucas Noguera (23 caps). Even his bench was full of Test players.
But this narrow win over a Cheetah team that had lost its coach and four of its best players (Willie le Roux, Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss, Lappies Labuschagne) recently, caused Spiro Zavos to pronounce in the Sydney Morning Herald that of the three new teams in Super Rugby, the Jaguares deserve three cheers, while the Kings deserve none.
However, the Kings have slowly improved each week, while that close shave in Bloemfontein after being in South Africa for a month and naming for all intents and purposes an Argentinian Test side, was the high point so far for the Jags.
After losing to the Sharks, and then, even after a bye and enjoying a redoubtable home fortress, losing to the Chiefs and then the Stormers (scoring only 8 points against the Cape side), the Argentinian side lost heavily and at times listlessly to the Hurricanes and the Crusaders (a combined point differential of minus 65 at this point).
The result is the Jaguares have only collected seven points from seven matches, only slightly better than the much-maligned Sunwolves and Kings.
Even more alarming, their vaunted scum has been a mess, and they lead the tournament in knock-ons, yellow cards, and missed tackles.
Their latest loss was quite frankly a demolition. The Crusaders took their feet off the pedal and missed several easy kicks, or it would have been much worse than 32-15.
What is wrong? How is a team that surely would be favoured to be competitive in the Six Nations, and in almost this same configuration was the fourth-best team at the World Cup, struggling to stabilise scrums, score points and make their tackles against teams that often have only a handful of Test stars, or less?
Does anyone have a theory?
I was talking to Carlos the Argie in the USA and he said the Pumas may have believed their own hype and elevated players like Levanini, for instance, to the same level as more proven hardman locks like Brodie Retallick and Eben Etzebeth, before on-field realities justified it.
I’ve seen nobrain comment on tactical decisions to play a madcap offload-heavy style against super-defensive teams like the Stormers, which tends to result in futility. I’ve read from our Kiwi posters that the Jaguares’ decision to rotate players disrespected the Hurricanes, for instance.
What say you? How can the virtually all-Puma Jaguares be struggling against club teams?