Argentina’s Jaguares become a rare Super Rugby success story

Australia World

Posted July 03, 2019 17:45:59

Judging by its own expansion and rapid contraction, not to mention the general state of the competition compared to what it once was, Super Rugby has done a lot more wrong than right in recent years.

But the journey of Argentina’s Jaguares to the Super Rugby final in just their fourth season is one thing the competition and its member nations have got right.

From the outset of professionalism in the mid-1990s, the SANZAR partnership between South Africa, New Zealand and Australia has been fruitful. Only England’s Rugby World Cup win in 2003 has unseated the Southern Hemisphere dominance on the field and the revenue that dominance yielded off it.

And though it was hastily thrown together as rugby union itself was thrown into professionalism, Super Rugby was long regarded by its organisers and outside observers as being the best provincial rugby competition in the world.

The gradual shift of power to the Northern Hemisphere, driven by significantly higher revenues being generated in Europe, has seen the Champions Cup — literally rugby’s equivalent of football’s Champions League — take over this mantle.

Indeed, Super Rugby effectively recognises this, with their own social media channels now describing the competition as “the Southern Hemisphere’s pre-eminent rugby tournament, featuring 15 teams from across Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Japan”.

Argentina’s growing presence in Southern Hemisphere rugby has been a gradual but welcome one.

SANZAR transformed the existing Tri-Nations tournament into The Rugby Championship in 2012 with the admission of Los Pumas, and the Union Argentina de Rugby (UAR) gained full member status to SANZAR — which added an ‘A’ to become SANZAAR — in 2016, at the same time the Jaguares were admitted to Super Rugby.

Four seasons later, they will play their first final in just their 66th Super Rugby match.

To get to the final this season the Jaguares have built form on the field with a run of seven straight wins and 11 from their last 12 matches.

Those wins have come in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, proving that they are certainly not just home-ground bullies.

But they have definitely bullied visiting teams in Buenos Aires, winning their last six straight at home via a run that culminated in their 39-7 demolition of Australian conference champions the Brumbies in front of more than 31,000 spectators at the Estadio Jose Amalfitani last weekend.

And along the way, they have also had to overcome some incredibly misguided criticism of their existence.

Retired Wallabies captain Phil Kearns caused a stir throughout the four corners of the Super Rugby world this season when — after the Jaguares had the temerity to beat the Waratahs in Sydney for the second time in consecutive visits — he claimed they “shouldn’t even be in the comp”.

“They’re the national team,” Kearns said on Fox Sports immediately after the match.

“If you want national teams, put them in a comp. But they are a national team.”

Jaguares making Pumas stronger on world stage

Kearns’s comments were based on the fact the Jaguares boast so few players who have not played for Argentina, therefore he believed they enjoyed a distinct advantage over the remaining teams in Super Rugby, where Test-capped players are more widely spread.

But to take this line of thought is to completely ignore the whole reason for basing a Super Rugby team in Argentina in the first place.

The Jaguares were established so that the UAR could regain developmental control over its players, who up until 2016 were forced to ply their trade overseas with no professional provincial or club competition in Argentina.

Just as Australia and New Zealand do with Wallabies and All Blacks eligibility, the UAR required players with aspirations of pulling on the Los Pumas jersey to first play Super Rugby for the Jaguares.

Of the current 28-player squad in New Zealand for Saturday’s final against the Crusaders in Christchurch, only three players remain uncapped. Seventeen of them have more than 10 Test caps and their bench against the Brumbies last Saturday totalled upwards of 180 Test matches.

Argentina has made great strides on the international stage since gaining admission to The Rugby Championship and the improvement of the Jaguares in Super Rugby will have a flow-on impact with Los Pumas at the Rugby World Cup later this year.

Until then, the Jaguares themselves are relishing the opportunity to create history. The Crusaders are unbeaten in Christchurch in their last 30 matches and have never lost a Super Rugby finals match in the city.

“We knew the opportunity to be in a Super Rugby final would come,” veteran Jaguares hooker Agustin Creevy said in Christchurch this week.

“Maybe, I thought we were going to take a little longer to achieve it and that’s why I’m very grateful to be part of this great moment for the Jaguares, which has taken so much effort.

“We are in this situation because the maturity in the Jaguares has developed. Each year we learned and grew. Last season we reached the quarter-finals, making an important breakthrough, and the big jump came this year.

“Today there are players who used to be boys and now they have grown up and they lead the team.”

Topics: super-rugby, rugby-union, sport, argentina