Jaguares 21-16 Chiefs
No one could fault the Chiefs’ desire and effort. After needing six games to get their first win of this campaign, they have since responded with pure desperation.
Welcoming Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane back certainly helped. But three wins in the final three weeks of the regular season – one brilliant comeback to overturn a 20-point deficit against the Crusaders in Suva – pushed them into the playoffs, against all odds.
Travelling to Buenos Aires, and playing in a hostile, foreign atmosphere, is never easy. Not least when you meet a formidable Jaguares side that has now won 10 of their last 11 matches.
With the World Cup on the horizon, Argentina rugby is building at the right time, and the Jaguares are a big reason for that.
One of their starting XV for this match has not played for Pumas – the same off the bench, too.
Their defence was outstanding in the second half – the predominant reason why they will be back at home next week to host the semifinal. At one point they repelled 15 phases on their own line before another mistake from the Chiefs let them off the hook.
The passion of Jaguares fans and players at the final whistle showed just how much reaching their first semifinal means to them.
The Chiefs will rue blowing an eight-point second half lead; their error count and poorly malfunctioning lineout throws at crucial times. Their dominant scrum kept them in the game and they had their chances elsewhere, but execution and accuracy, particularly from their pack, let them down.
Truth is, given their horror start to the season, they did well to make it this far.
In their first home playoff match the Jaguares were always going to come out of the blocks quickly. Still, a try after 50 seconds wasn’t expected.
In one of six fist half errors alone from the Chiefs forwards, many coming while attempting tip on passes just before contact, Angus Ta’avao lost the ball which led to Matera opening the scoring.
This continued the early theme. It was all Jaguares. They were patient in building phases and switching the play.
The Chiefs did well to absorb pressure and only concede one first half try. Shaun Stevenson enjoyed roaming on the edge and found space with some nice chips in behind which created field position and, thus chances.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, frequent errors from their pack when in striking distance nullified much of their positive work.
They needed a moment of brilliance from Brad Weber, as has been the case so often of late, to inspire a fightback. One big dummy and break up the middle had Weber giving Lachlan Boshier an inside ball on the way to the line. It was another example of the one test All Blacks halfback pushing his case for World Cup inclusion.
By the end of the first half, the Chiefs had withstood the initial onslaught and worked themselves into a position of strength. Their senior players came to the fore –Retallick with one turnover, Ta’avao two big scrums, Cane with typically huge hits and Anton Lienert-Brown with carries and a turnover, to lead 10-8 at half time.
The Jaguares upped the tempo in the second spell, though, and exposed the Chiefs by giving the ball air to the edges. The Chiefs’ ill-discipline proved costly, too, and their inability to win a lineout became a major issue.
The Chiefs weren’t helped by losing Jack Debreczeni to injury early in the second half. This appeared to disrupt their momentum, somewhat, but it was not the reason they lost.
For Colin Cooper it’s a case of back to the drawing board. This was not an easy campaign to manage, having lost Damian McKenzie, Retallick and Cane for large periods.
Ultimately the Chiefs will take heart from sneaking into the playoffs but expectations are such that more is expected.
Jaguares: Pablo Matera, Matias Moroni tries, Joaquin diaz Bonilla pen 2, con
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