Former Wallabies hooker Phil Kearns has called for the removal of the Jaguares from Super Rugby, just as they look on track to host their first-ever quarter-final in the competition.
His bizarre statement came shortly after the Jaguares’ 23-15 win over the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday, which leaves them four point clear at the top of the South African conference and second overall.
Having played 73 times for New South Wales, two-time World Cup-winner Kearns has a strong affiliation with the Waratahs, who now sit eight points off the pace of the Australian conference-leading Brumbies, and five points shy of a top eight spot.
With just three rounds remaining in the Super Rugby regular season, the Waratahs’ hopes of appearing in the post-season for a second consecutive season now appear slim.
Having earlier beaten the Brumbies 20-15 in Buenos Aires, the Jaguares have won both of their matches against Australian opposition this season, with their final match of their four-game Australasian tour coming this weekend against the Reds in Brisbane.
Despite their strong showing this year, Kearns was critical of their inclusion in the competition due to the number of Argentine test players in the squad.
“They’re the national team,” the 67-test veteran said on Fox Sports‘ post-match coverage in Sydney. “They shouldn’t even be in the comp.
“This is a provincial competition. Have a provincial team in it – that’s what it’s about. It’s not about having national teams being in it.”
“I think Argentina have been incredibly smart and have hoodwinked the rest of SANZAAR because they’re going to have a magnificent World Cup team, there’s no doubt about it — they’ve played together for the last three years.”
36 players from the Jaguares have been selected in Argentina’s 46-man preliminary World Cup training squad, which will eventually be whittled down to 31 players.
The Jaguares were one of three Super Rugby expansion teams when the competition morphed from a 15-team to an 18-team league in 2016, joining the Sunwolves of Japan and the Southern Kings of South Africa – who previously competed in place of the Lions in 2013 – as the new sides.
After two extremely unsuccessful seasons of the enlarged tournament, the Kings were axed alongside the Cheetahs and Western Force in 2017.
The two South African franchises joined the Pro14 in Europe, while the Force were taken over by billionaire Andrew Forrest, who created the Global Rapid Rugby competition for the Perth-based club to compete in.
The Sunwolves are set to endure a similar fate at the end of next season, when the competition is culled back to 14 teams, allowing for a return to a round-robin format that was last seen in Super Rugby from between 2006 and 2010.
Consequently, the Jaguares will be the only expansion side from 2016 still in the competition from 2021 onwards, which is the result of their strength of squad, promising potential, and improving run of results.
Kearns’ sentiments echoes that of fellow ex-Wallaby Mark Ella, who said the Jaguares would be better off playing in a regional competition in the Americas.
“When SANZAR became SANZAAR with the admission of Argentina the travel burden became ridiculous,” Ella wrote in his column for the Weekend Australian.
“The Rugby Championship and Super Rugby now circle the globe and are played on every continent in the southern hemisphere. No other sporting teams in any competition anywhere in the world endure the epic road trips of southern hemisphere rugby nations.
“In Super Rugby, the Jaguares play in the South African conference, their nearest neighbour, yet it is still 8000km from Buenos Aires to Johannesburg. It just adds to the sense that Argentina are not where they belong.”
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