February 26, 2016, remains a date ingrained in Matías Orlando’s mind. That was the Friday evening in Bloemfontein when the Jaguares set out on the compelling journey that has now culminated in Saturday’s Super Rugby final appearance in Christchurch.
The thought of reaching a showpiece decider 41 months later against defending champions Crusaders was something that would have sounded extremely far-fetched on that nervous night of baptism in the tournament.
No-one knew how they would go, least of all themselves. But the resilience that has allowed them to thrive and prosper over time was glimpsed in that memorable debut, Nicolas Sanchez landing the decisive goal nine minutes from time that was just about enough to clinch a maiden 34-33 win.
“I remember the first match in Super Rugby with Cheetahs where we started to get into an unknown world,” remembered Orlando all these years later after arriving in New Zealand to prepare for the tournament finale.
“We didn’t know what it was about. We started something new and lived a different experience. There were many frustrations along the way and four years later we are about to play the final. It is very crazy and we are living it in an incredible way.
Matías Orlando: «No fue fácil llegar hasta acá»
— JaguaresARG (@JaguaresARG) July 3, 2019
“We are here because it is what we wanted and what we dreamed. We achieve the purpose we seek, to work day by day in search of something and achieve it. It has not been easy to get here and we do not want to miss this opportunity.”
It was Tuesday when the Argentine franchise touched down in Christchurch fresh from their home semi-final win last Friday over the Brumbies that was their seventh victory on the bounce this season.
‘The goal of the Jaguares was always for the franchise to be a vehicle for Los Pumas’
– @alexshawsport argues why @JaguaresARG have become a @SuperRugby success that should be celebrated and not criticised ? ?? ? https://t.co/9ZfqLYoNbA
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 27, 2019
Dethroning the Crusaders, though, is their litmus test. “They are very consistent and they don’t lose their hunger,” acknowledged Orlando. “Every year they show that they want to be the best and they achieve it.
“We are prepared to play this game. We do not come to cast a shadow over them. We are hungry to win this game. We do not play finals every day. As a team, we want to play good rugby and send the message so that Argentine rugby feels represented by us.”
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