It is no secret that Sir Graham Henry’s favourite tipple is a bottle of Argentine Malbec.
Fresh off their first-ever Super Rugby finals appearance, can the side from Argentina consolidate their growth in 2019? Or was last season’s success just a flash in the pan? In the seventh part of our 2019 Super Rugby preview series, we cast our eye to the Jaguares.
Coach: Gonzalo Quesada
Captain: Jeronimo de la Fuente
Major signings: Gonzala Quesada (coach, Biarritz)
Major departures: Nicolas Sanchez (Stade Francais), Juan Martin Hernandez (retired), Mario Ledesma (coach, Argentina)
Jeronimo de la Fuente (c), Agustin Creevy, Bautista Ezcurra, Bautista Delguy, Diego Fortuny, Domingo Miotti, Emiliano Boffelli, Enrique Pieretto, Franco Molina, Gaspar Baldunciel, Guido Petti Pagadizabal, Gonzalo Bertranou, Ignacio Mendy, Javier Diaz, Javier Ortega Desio, Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, Joaquin Tuculet, Juan Cruz Mallia, Juan Pablo Zeiss, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Julian Montoya, Lucas Paulos, Lucio Sordoni, Marcos Kremer, Martin Landajo, Matias Alemanno, Matias Moroni, Matias Orlando, Mayco Vivas, Nahual Tetaz Chaparro, Pablo Matera, Ramiro Moyano, Rodrigo Bruni, Santiago Carreras, Santiago Chocobares, Santiago Garcia Botta, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, Santiago Grondona, Santiago Medrano, Sebastian Cancelliere, Tomas Cubelli, Tomas Lavanini, Tomas Lezana
Won 9, lost 7, finished second in the South African Conference, seventh overall
It looked to be the same old story for the Jaguares early in 2018, with three straight losses anchoring them to the bottom of the table.
But they turned it around smartly, winning nine of their next 11 games to sit firmly in finals position at the pointy end of the season. Unfortunately, they fell out of form over the last fortnight and, by the time that debut finals appearance came around, they were no match for the Lions in their quarter-final.
It was a vastly improved defensive effort from the Jaguares that helped them rise up the ladder in 2018 and that forward corps is still very much intact for this season.
In fact, it’s probably the one area the club has added more depth.
The Argentinians were very stingy with their run metres, giving up just 641 a game and stopping their opponents from making the gainline 44 per cent of the time – second-best in the league in both statistics.
Nothing frustrates a team more than not being able to move the ball and score. If they can keep that miserly defensive setup together this season, they’ll be a hard team to beat most weeks.
There’s no other way to look at it, this team has lost some of their biggest names and don’t have ready-made replacements for them.
The departure of Nicolas Sanchez to France and the retirement of Juan Martin Hernandez leaves the side with a gaping hole in the halves – bad news for a team with the second-fewest kicking metres in 2018.
Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias has experience, but only looks to be a temporary solution at flyhalf given his age. The same can be said of Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, who turns 30 in April.
Mario Ledesma’s transition from Jaguares coach to manager of the national side is a big change too, although his replacement, Gonzalo Quesada, won’t necessarily be too much of a step down, having also been in the running for the Pumas job.
After a rough initiation to Super Rugby, there’s little doubt now that the wheel has finally turned – Argentina is capable of producing a viable, competitive, Super Rugby outfit.
They’ll always be a tough team to play on their own paddock and carry an air of danger about them against most opposition.
But, with quality big names departing and only U20s graduates or senior citizens (or at least the rugby equivalent of the latter) to fill their shoes, repeating last season’s finals appearance is probably just beyond them.
Prediction: Third in the South African Conference, ninth overall