In 2018, the Jaguares secured a 20-13 win over the Blues at Eden Park and then backed it up with 23-19 win a week later against the Chiefs in Rotorua. That second victory capped off the end of an undefeated four-match tour to Australia and New Zealand for the Jaguares.
It’s now the Jaguares’ fourth year playing in Super Rugby and they’ve comfortably been the most successful addition to the tournament to date.
Last year, the Jaguares made the Super Rugby finals for the first time and bowed out in the quarter-finals to the Lions.
This year, the Jaguares have continued to build on 2018’s success and are well placed to push for another finals spot. They’re currently fourth on the overall ladder and can’t be overtaken in round 14 by any teams that will have played an equal number of matches. Factor in that the Jaguares’ final four games include matches against three teams sitting in the bottom five of the competition and Jaguares supporters have every reason to be confident.
When the Jaguares were first introduced to Super Rugby, Argentinian players were required to represent the team (or another based in Argentina) if they wanted to play international football. This guaranteed a strong squad from day one. It also benefited the national team by giving its player plenty of time together in camp.
This ruling, however, meant that a number of stars conceded the ability to play for Argentina in exchange for the better lifestyles on offer in Europe. The likes of Juan Figallo, Facundo Isa and Marcelo Bosch have all been excluded from selection at one point or another due to representing clubs outside of Argentina.
Various figures rightly questioned the legitimacy of the Jaguares and the Pumas operating in separate competitions with two different coaches when the sides were comprised of basically the same players. The Jaguares offered a clear local pathway from club to international rugby, but it was a very linear path. This rule also hampered development opportunities as only 23 Argentinian players could be playing top level rugby each week. Unsurprisingly, the Argentina national team have not improved in recent years.
This requirement has since been dropped with Pumas coach Mario Ledesma now allowed to call on foreign based players should the need arise. Although there were fears this policy change could lead to a mass exodus, Argentina now have the best of both worlds, with young athletes able to develop under the guidance of the Jaguares and Pumas coaches in Argentina before potentially heading overseas to hone their craft.
The current selection policy also means that cultivating players in key positions is no longer such a challenge. Nicolás Sánchez, with over 70 international caps to his name, is a tried and tested first-five. He left the Jaguares at the end of 2018 and is now playing for Stade Francais which has allowed Joaquín Díaz Bonilla and Domingo Miotti to develop at the Jaguares. Had Sánchez remained in Argentina, the Pumas would be required to use a back-up flyhalf in their match-day squad who was also only a back-up at Super Rugby level.
There’s no question that the current situation will benefit Argentina in the long-run.
Players have not been departing the country in droves even though the money on offer in Europe far trumps what’s available in Argentina. This is partly because Ledesma and the Argentinian selectors favour picking players who are locally based and partly because the Jaguares players very much enjoy representing their Super Rugby side.
Even with the slightly more relaxed rules, the national side is still comprised of predominantly Jaguares players. Only five players who represented Argentina in 2018’s November series will not line up for the Jaguares in 2020. This means that the Jaguares are still able to put out an international quality side in Super Rugby each week, giving them a distinct advantage over other teams.
What then, does the future hold for the Argentinian set-up?
Americas Rugby News reported earlier in the year that a fully professional South American club competition is on the horizon which could include teams from Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. This competition would not be anywhere near the level of Super Rugby but it would give Argentina a genuine alternative system for developing young players.
The Pumas are effectively selecting from a pool of about 40 candidates at present. A professional South American competition could change this. The next step, of course, is for Argentina to gain a greater footing in the next level up.
Super Rugby is a broken competition. In 2021 the tournament will likely revert to a 15-team, full round-robin due to the omission of Japan’s Sunwolves. What will happen in the future is anyone’s guess, but Argentina desperately need a second team playing at the same level as the Jaguares to improve their chances on the international stage. Super Rugby is obviously where Argentina are currently represented, but adding a second team to the competition would once again require a complete revamp – something which fans will be pessimistic about, given past expansions haven’t exactly increased the quality of product on offer.
It’s still too early for a second Super Rugby team to be introduced in Argentina for a number of reasons, but the Jaguares concept simply doesn’t make sense for the long-term future. There’s already plenty of debate regarding which direction Super Rugby should take moving forward – the Jaguares’ continued improvement just adds to the already countless factors that need to be considered.
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