If you didn’t catch the Super Rugby quarter-finals last weekend, you missed a treat, but fear not this weekend’s semi-final action is likely to be edge of the seat stuff and then some. A New Zealand derby sees two powerhouse sides go up against each other, and in the process give the All Black selectors a tantalizing look at how their Rugby Championship and World Cup plans may unfold. In Argentina, a flash looking Brumbies side makes the long journey to take on the Jaguares in a venue that is proving to be a bit of a fortress for the South American side.
There are lots of questions to be answered, especially for the All Blacks in a couple of key positions as a result of how events turn out in Christchurch on Saturday, while in Buenos Aires Australian fans will hope that the Brumbies can deliver a much needed renaissance for Australian rugby. For the Jaguares it’s been a dream season that has gone from strength to strength, and in the process injected some much needed life into the Super Rugby tournament.
In short it’s a weekend you won’t want to miss, so here’s what got us talking as we look forward to two games that should keep us guessing to the final whistles.
Jaguares vs Brumbies – Friday, June 28th – Buenos Aires
While the rest of Australian rugby may be in a bit of a shambles, the Brumbies have been a ray of hope for the game in the land down under this season. Consistency may not have been their strong point in the first half of the season, but they still managed to comfortably top the Australian conference and at times have played some brilliant rugby, with last weekend’s quarter final a case in point and which saw them complete a seven game winning streak. However, it’s a long journey from Canberra to Buenos Aires, and given the rather short turnaround it remains to be seen how well the Australian outfit has coped with the travel issue.
No such issues are faced by the Jaguares who are coming off the back of their own six game winning streak as well as a three week residency at the Estadio Jose Amalfitani which has become a fortress for them this year. Unlike a lot of Super Rugby venues this year, the Buenos Aires stadium has packed exceptionally healthy and enthusiastic crowds and Friday’s encounter should be no different. The Jaguares have played some of the most entertaining rugby of the competition and on home soil will be a very daunting prospect for their Australian visitors.
So how much will the Brumbies short turnaround and long journey play a factor?
As some have already said in other forums, the Brumbies may well have studied the Jaguares playbook on how to cope with travel on the road, as the South American team pulled off some memorable wins on the road this season, and furthermore were consistent in the way they did it. The Brumbies played only last Saturday night in Canberra in their quarter-final against South Africa’s Sharks, and the next morning were on the bus to Sydney airport. With only a few days to acclimatize, there is no doubt they have the bigger challenge of the two sides running out tomorrow night.
Is the transfer of leadership in the Jaguares complete and will this translate to the Pumas next month?
There is no doubt that Pablo Matera has risen to the call of leadership this year and is the spark and talisman to the team that Agustin Creevy has been up to now. Although the powerful flanker departs for France after the World Cup, he has led from the front from the opening whistle of the Jaguares 2019 season. Creevy is clearly the talisman he always has been, but Matera has been the catalyst for the Jaguares success this year. We should get a good idea on Friday of how the two will share the role in the Pumas forthcoming Rugby Championship and World Cup campaign – but so far it seems a natural chemistry and ascendancy.
The Jaguares have one of the best lock partnerships in the competition plain and simple
Big, powerful and exceptionally mobile the Jaguares second row is a thing to be feared. The Brumbies pack a real threat in Rory Arnold and he is no doubt clearly on the radar for Wallaby Coach Michael Cheika. However, despite Arnold’s presence we fear that the Brumbies are going to be put to the test here on Friday. Petti in particular has been outstanding for the Jaguares and Argentina since last year, and his mobility and spoiler factor at lineout time, will be something the Brumbies and Arnold in particular will have to really get to grips with.
Yes we know we’ll see him again come the Rugby Championship and the World Cup, but it would seem the Jaguares really haven’t missed their star fly half of last year Nicolas Sanchez. Joaquin Diaz Bonilla and Domingo Miotti have been revelations at 10 for the Jaguares and are likely to get some serious international exposure in the forthcoming Rugby Championship. If that goes well then Argentina travel to the World Cup with three solid playmaker options in the number 10 jersey.
Plenty of positives for both sides that will pay dividends come the World Cup in terms of new talent coming of age
You know all about the Jaguares backs and we’ve talked about the dynamic duo the Jaguares have at fly half. However, there has been plenty of new talent that has emerged for both sides. The Brumbies scrum half Joe Powell was absolutely outstanding last weekend and for Wallaby selectors a genuinely refreshing option in terms of looking at life after Will Genia. Brumbies fullback Tom Banks has been on fire this season, and makes the current Israel Folau fiasco rather meaningless to the Wallabies long term plans. The Jaguares have found a gem in winger Sebastian Cancelliere, though he’d already caught our eye in the Americas Rugby Championship two years ago when he represented the Argentina XV side that destroyed Canada in the snow. These are just a few of the names you will want to watch on Friday among a refreshing crop of young talent on both sides likely to make a statement in Japan.
Much has been made of the travel factor weighing against the Brumbies, and the fact that the last time these two sides met in Buenos Aires it went the Argentinians’ way. However as the flagship side of a country whose rugby scene is in turmoil, expect the Brumbies to be Australia’s ambassadors of good cheer on Friday night with a point to prove both to their nation and themselves.
Nevertheless, it’s the Jaguares home ground and they are on a definite roll at the moment. Furthermore for most neutral supporters they are the firm favorites of the tournament, as their success has added a genuine frisson of excitement and unpredictability to a competition that was starting to lack both qualities. New Zealand sides have dominated Super Rugby for the most part since the last World Cup, and the Jaguares have in the four years since they joined proved that they were worth their admission and then some. We think they will be very hard to beat on Friday in Buenos Aires and with an almost delirious crowd egging them on, it may be rather lonely in Estadio Jose Amalfitani for the Brumbies. If the Australians can overcome the jet lag and the noise then what’s to say they can’t go all the way this year. Nevertheless we think it’s too much of a tall order, and consequently hand it to the Jaguares by four points!
Crusaders vs Hurricanes – Saturday, June 29th – Christchurch
As an exhibition of our great game you couldn’t ask for two more clinical and exciting sides in New Zealand’s Crusaders and Hurricanes. With both teams having the competition sewn up between them since the last World Cup, it is hard to not see the same happening again this year. However, Saturday’s clash will ensure that only one is left in the hunt as opposed to a final split between the two of them. It’s hard to conceive of the Crusaders not lifting the trophy for the third consecutive time next Saturday, but the Hurricanes as their name so aptly says are a force that can lay to waste the best laid plans.
The Crusaders have been the form team of the tournament this year having only lost 2 games. Saturday’s match should be a Clash of Titans and while the Crusaders are almost impossible to bet against on form, the Hurricanes have shown that they can knock anyone off their lofty perch on their day.
There are lots of talking points in this game but the one on everybody’s lips is the battle for the All Black 10 jersey
While we agree that it’s still hard not to see the Hurricanes’ Beauden Barrett remaining as All Black Coach Steve Hansen’s number one choice, the Crusaders Richie Mo’unga’s claim on the jersey is undeniable. He has been the form 10 of the tournament in New Zealand, and his repertoire of skills is in some ways superior to Barrett’s. Barrett may be the better game manager but Mo’unga’s eye for opportunity, kicking and ball handling skills have been off the charts this season. One of the most fascinating contests of the weekend by a country mile and one which will tell us much about New Zealand and the World Cup.
Next contest for an All Black starting jersey – Dane Coles vs Codie Taylor
After being on the sidelines with injury, Hurricanes Hooker Dane Coles is back to his absolute best and despite the Crusaders’ Codie Taylor stepping into his enormous boots with steadfast reliability and a skillset all his own, it’s hard not to see the Wellington man continue to be Steve Hansen’s first choice. Reliable and probably the only Hooker who can genuinely play as a winger, Coles’ abilities are the stuff of legend. Taylor however has really stood up in Coles’ absence and while perhaps not as flash as his Hurricanes counterpart is the slightly more reliable of the two in the set pieces. Tough choice and another fascinating battle to watch.
Ardie Savea – the Hurricanes own force of nature
We just love watching this guy play – plain and simple. He is the only player we know who appears to play with an almost frantic abandon, accentuated by his hairstyle, yet at the same time appears to know exactly what he is doing and ends up being devastatingly effective at it. He arrives at a ruck causes complete chaos and in the blink of an eye the Hurricanes or New Zealand are suddenly on the front foot and moving forward. In short a defence coach’s worst containment nightmare. Expect to see him causing complete havoc on Saturday.
The Jack Goodhue/Ryan Crotty partnership – the perfect blend of youth and experience
In our opinion this is one of the best centre combinations in world rugby right now and expect to see these two gentlemen in action together a lot in a black jersey over the coming months. Goodhue the youngster has been such a complement to his mentor the veteran Ryan Crotty, that these two alone can swing a game in the Crusaders’ favor, especially allied to the talents of the exceptional Richie Mo’unga. The Hurricanes’ Ngani Laumape has been one of the tournament’s standout players, but the Crusaders pair have ruled the centre of the park.
David Havili vs Jordie Barrett – another fascinating dilemma for the All Black selectors at fullback
With Damian Mackenzie out of the World Cup due to injury, these two are clearly the front runners for the 15 jersey if Ben Smith is switched to the wing. Barrett has the more useful boot and is better in the defensive contests, but Havili’s ball skills are exceptional coupled to an ability to read the run of play and leave defenders in his wake. A real threat with ball in hand, Havili will make sure that the selectors will be faced with a real conundrum after Saturday, especially if both players put in noteworthy performances.
In a clash of giants, it’s always hard to pick a winner. But home advantage and an incredible run of form tip the odds fairly heavily in the Crusaders’ favor. There is slightly more of an All Black look and feel to the Crusaders lineup, and while it is likely to be a pulsating contest from both sides, our money is on the men from Christchurch wrapping up proceedings by five points. It should be one hell of a ride and while it may be a domestic derby, it will be at Test level intensity!