They may have surprised the southern hemisphere to finish runners-up in this year’s Super Rugby, but the Jaguares’ success won’t count for much in this weekend’s clash between the All Blacks and Argentina in Buenos Aires, according to star Kiwi halfback Aaron Smith.
The South American franchise stunned rugby fans worldwide as they topped the South African conference and beat three of the four New Zealand franchises to finish the regular season in second place, ensuring them a home quarter-final and semi-final for the first time in their brief history.
Their dream run to the final fell short at the final hurdle, though, as the all-conquering Crusaders came away with a 19-3 victory to secure a hat-trick of titles in front of their home fans at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch.
Nevertheless, the Argentine club’s efforts were lauded as their final appearance exemplified their rapid progress since joining Super Rugby as an expansion side in 2016.
As an increase in positive results flowed their way, confidence and momentum within Argentine rugby has continued to grow, and with the vast majority of the Pumas squad made up of Jaguares players, whispers of a potential upset against the All Blacks this weekend continue to grow louder.
However, Smith issued a warning for the Argentinians, saying they will have to raise their game from Super Rugby level if they are to threaten an All Blacks side that is without eight of its champion Crusaders players in their Rugby Championship opener on Saturday (local time).
“Their results in Super Rugby would say they are going to have a really good opportunity,” he said.
“But I believe test matches are different.
“They are going to have a different team, as well, a few new players coming in, and we are going to have our strongest team out there as well.
“It’s going to be a hard game. It’s called a Test match for a reason. So, yeah, take what you will from that.”
Smith is one of only a handful of Kiwi players in the Argentine capital who have beaten the Jaguares this year, with Highlanders teammates Liam Coltman and Josh Ioane also taking part in their 32-27 victory at Forsyth Barr Stadium earlier this year, while Crusaders trio George Bridge, Sevu Reece and Braydon Ennor all played in the Super Rugby final.
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