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'Conversations have been brought forward' on a Jaguares return to Super Rugby

By Ned Lester
Matias Moroni scores for Jaguares at the Hurricanes (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The Melbourne Rebels’ pending demise may be paving the way for a return of the Buenos Aires-based Super Rugby franchise, the Jaguares.

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And, those wheels may start turning rather quickly, or at least quicker than what Argentina Rugby president Gabriel Travelaglini was expecting when he revealed there was an invitation on the table for the team to return in 2026 last September.

With the Melbourne club’s financial woes leading to voluntary administration in late January, the powers that be have been busy exploring potential solutions to see the competition maintain it’s 12-team format, and expanding, or re-expanding to the Americas or Japan has been floated as one of those solutions.

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It has been mentioned by New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson over the early stages of 2024, other ideas include a reported merger of Moana Pasifika and the Rebels, and seems to have been well received by the UAR.

“We have the invitation, but it would be from 2026 because they have already closed the current one,” Travelaglini said back in September, referencing the competition’s media rights deal.

“It is planned to set up a franchise. We have the commitment that they will receive us and that we will play games at home and away.”

Robinson updated the situation this week on the Rugby Direct podcast.

“Most of the work about the future shape of the competition in terms of number of teams and formats is focused on 2026 and the next media rights cycle,” he said.

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“Clearly the Rebels’ challenges have meant some of those conversations have been brought forward a little bit. We’re not 100 per cent sure around where the Rebels’ future sits but it’s significantly challenged at the moment.

“It’s too early to say what the number of teams are going to be. We need to find out exactly where the Rebels are at and then work through the rest of the year.

“There’s lots of different conversations as it relates to South America; North America, Japan as potentially interested parties but we need a bit more detail on that before we can comment too much further.”

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The west coast of the USA had been referenced as a potential new club location, and so too was Hawaii.

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The potential changes come at a time when the Super Rugby brand has finally reached some consistency in its competition structure.

The Super Rugby Pacific era has digested the loss of South Africa and placed the competition on a fresh new trajectory, removed from the turmoil of the ever-changing structure and faces of the past decade.

Robinson said all the previous experimentation – including the Jaguares’ previous stint in the competition from 2016 to 2019 – had taught them some valuable lessons and framed how decisions would be made moving forward.

“When we talk about the fans that’s not great for the identity and purpose of the competition. As I share some of the conversations about new territories coming into the competition those lessons are certainly front of mind.

“Having in-depth analysis, great data, around what any new entrant or expansion might mean is a foundation from decisions in the past.”

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Poorfour 10 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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