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Super Rugby's much-needed feel-good story

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The Jaguares have become Super Rugby's much-needed feel-good story

In a year in which certain pundits have criticised and called for the expulsion of the Jaguares from Super Rugby, it seems only fitting that they have become the competition’s feel-good story.

No one knew back in 2016 how the Jaguares would go in the tournament, whether or not they would prove to be a sustainable venture or how successful they would be in stemming the tide of players leaving Argentina for contracts in Europe.

The only thing that was certain was the immense potential that the side offered. Whether or not they would ever fulfil it was another matter.

The critiques levelled at the Buenos Aires-based side this season – they conveniently coincide with their improved fortunes and ability, in particular, to start picking up away wins – have revolved around the fact they are, in essence, a national side.

Argentina may have abandoned their cut and dry home-based selection policy, but they do still lean on it heavily, ensuring that most times the Jaguares take to the pitch, they are fielding a 23 that is almost entirely capped at Test level. This, critics argue, makes them a national side and not a provincial one like the opposition they face in Super Rugby.

Frankly, this is not news. The goal of the Jaguares was always for the franchise to be a vehicle for Los Pumas and this was set out quite clearly when the side was created and joined the competition in 2016.

It’s funny how there were no complaints when the Jaguares finished 13th in 2016 or 10th in 2017. There weren’t even murmurings when they finished seventh in 2018 and made the play-offs for the first time.

But now that they’re finishing second on the overall log and knocking off a team like the Chiefs in the play-offs, it seems as though their presence is harder to stomach.

Thankfully, though, these criticisms are in the minority, with most revelling in the success of the Argentine side and using their upward trajectory as a way of pushing higher standards in their own teams and nations.

The Jaguares’ haul of 11 wins this season had them level with the Crusaders at the top of the table. Of those 11, five came on the road, with two victories in South Africa and Australia apiece, as well as a memorable night knocking off the Hurricanes in Wellington.

For a competition that has been accused of over-expansion, diminishing quality and an inability to hold fan interest, the rise of the Jaguares has been a much-needed feel-good story, especially following the development that the Sunwolves are set to be cut from the tournament.

Having advanced from the quarter-finals with the aforementioned win over the Chiefs, Gonzalo Quesada’s team are now faced by a Brumbies team full of confidence following their 38-13 trouncing of the Sharks in Canberra. The Jaguares won the match-up between these two earlier in the season, a 20-15 victory in Buenos Aires.

That match encapsulated the success the franchise have had since their creation four years ago. Scrum-half Tomás Cubelli and flanker Pablo Matera were two of the standouts on the day. Cubelli was lured back to Argentina, ironically from the Brumbies as a result of opportunity at the Jaguares, while Matera has been part of the franchise’s entire journey having left Leicester Tigers to join them for their inaugural season.

The same goes for talismanic captain Agustín Creevy, who left Worcester Warriors to head home and lead the side in their fledgling 2016 season. Emiliano Boffelli and Marcos Kremer also stood out against the Brumbies and they are two clear examples of how the Jaguares have been able to help develop talent in Argentina and turn them into influential international players.

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Chances were taken that day by Santiago Carreras and Domingo Miotti, which showed that the franchise have been able to blood younger, more inexperienced players this season while still competing at the very top of Super Rugby.

Their lineout has been one of the most consistent and effective units in the competition thanks to the almost telepathic connection between Creevy and Guido Petti, while their try differential of +22 is comfortably the second best in the competition. It sees off all rivals but the Crusaders, whose mark of +42 is indicative of their current dominance.

It is understandable then why the team’s fortunes may have caused an ounce of professional jealousy. That said, there is no special treatment for the Jaguares, who are subject to exactly the same kind of issues and challenges that face every other Super Rugby side.

Jaguares

Replacing Pablo Matera’s ability and leadership will be a tough task for Gonzalo Quesada (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Santiago García Botta and Martín Landajo are both off to Harlequins after the World Cup, Tomás Lavanini heads to Leicester Tigers and even stalwart Matera will link up with Stade Français. It should not be surprising then that Quesada has blooded a number of new faces this season and his impact as head coach has certainly been felt with the franchise finding the perfect balance between immediate performance and long-term development.

Although those personnel losses are significant, and there are likely to be a few more names added to the list before their squad for the 2020 Super Rugby season is finalised, the Jaguares have shown they are not adverse to plucking the brightest young Argentine talents and throwing them into the deep end of competition.

In addition to the names already mentioned, Mayco Vivas, Santiago Medrano and Bautista Delguy have all been leant on heavily, while 2018 World Rugby Under-20 Championship stars Lucio Sordoni and Carreras have been given their first taste of senior club rugby.

Throw into the mix the next generation of players coming through that ever-improving Argentine pathway, such as Bautista Pedemonte, Ignacio Mendy and Mateo Carreras, and there is no reason to assume this peak is a one-season wonder for the men from Buenos Aires.

With Quesada in place at the Jaguares and Mario Ledesma on board with Los Pumas, the connected thinking between the franchise and the national team seems to be in place, the pathway is productive and all that remains is for the national team to settle on a style of play that works for them and is conducive to their success in the international arena.

As for Friday’s semi-final with the Brumbies, the Jaguares’ season will likely be deemed a success win or lose. But playing the way they have been and set to enjoy the backing of a vocal home crowd, few would bet against the Jaguares qualifying for their maiden Super Rugby final.

WATCH: Check out the trailer for the upcoming RugbyPass documentary with Ben Foden and Rugby United New York 

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The Jaguares have become Super Rugby's much-needed feel-good story