We’re pretty sure that most neutrals had this match as the dream end to this year’s Super Rugby competition. It’s been a long hard road for the Jaguares since their entry into the competition in 2016, but four years on they thoroughly deserve their shot at glory this weekend. For the Crusaders it’s business as usual as they seek to become champions for a third consecutive year. While the New Zealanders have essentially been the form team in the tournament for as long as most of us can remember, the Jaguares rise to prominence in the short space of four years has been the kind of success story that Super Rugby needed, and a marvelous advertisement for the value of a competition that has lost some of its sheen and appeal in recent years.
The Crusaders are the well seasoned establishment of the competition, while the Jaguares are the plucky upstart and clearly relish the role of the underdog. They have got better and better as the season progressed, and come into this match on an unbeaten streak of seven matches, three of which were on the road, including a victory in Wellington over the Crusaders semi-final opponents last week the Hurricanes. Ironically the Crusaders come into the match with a slightly less impressive winning streak, having only won three games on the trot recently. However, all of those last three games were in Christchurch, and despite that of 18 games played they have only lost two. On paper these teams do look remarkably even in terms of their campaigns this year, and the Jaguares seem to be able to travel well. Nevertheless perhaps the most telling statistic of all is that the Crusaders have not lost at home this season, and as a result it is the Jaguares who have everything to prove on Saturday if they are to break down a side that is more than just a little comfortable on their own turf.
Whatever happens on Saturday, we think we can safely say that a highly entertaining contest is on the cards for both Jaguares and Crusaders supporters and neutrals alike. We for one can’t wait and here’s what got us chewing the fat about this match over a few pints this week.
Crusaders vs Jaguares – Saturday, July 6th – Christchurch
There is no denying that the Jaguares have been the feel good factor of this year’s Super Rugby competition, and have injected some much needed variety and excitement into a tournament that has seemed to lose its way in the last few years. The rows and rows of empty seats in the grounds of many of the big teams has been juxtaposed against healthy and highly vocal crowds in Buenos Aires. For neutrals in the competition the Jaguares have become firm favorites. While some Australian commentators seem to feel aggrieved about the fact that you could mirror a Pumas starting XV from a Jaguares one, that simply can’t be helped given the small player base in Argentina and the fact there is only one Argentinian team in the competition. What they have given us is some truly brilliant attacking rugby and a style all of their own, which has become remarkably successful. In doing so they have also unearthed some young talent that will serve the national cause exceptionally well in the coming months.
The Crusaders on the other hand need no introduction whatsoever, having one the tournament nine times, more than any other team. Back to back champions since 2017, they will be exceptionally hard to beat on their home ground. In addition they too boast a host of All Black internationals. Well coached and well drilled they are the masters of their craft and it will take a rather extraordinary team to break them down. Are the Jaguares that side? We’re not sure but of any of the teams we’ve seen this year, they perhaps are the one that the Crusaders might find hardest to predict, especially as this will be the first time the two sides meet this year.
Where’s the beef?
Argentinian sides have always been renown for their scrummaging ability, but in an otherwise emphatic performance over the Brumbies last week, the Jaguares often struggled at scrum time. The Crusaders on the other hand had no such issues, and their front row alone oozes quality and ability, especially as it is for all intents and purposes and All Black front row. Even with the talismanic Agustin Creevy packing down at Hooker, this is one area where the Jaguares just haven’t looked convincing. The Crusaders will be fully aware of this and will look to make their tag as favorites in this area of the game work to their full advantage. If they get the upper hand and really start pushing the Jaguares around, then frustration and ill discipline is likely to get the better of the South Americans, and with fly half Richie Mo’unga not missing with the boot they could pay dearly for it. Therefore we have a hunch that the Jaguares will be trying to play with as little reliance on the scrum as possible, and ensure that their handling skills don’t give away costly knock ons. Fortunately the weather gods are predicting a dry day and clear skies in the evening, so fortune favors the Jaguares in that respect.
One area where the Jagaures will really look to rain on the Crusaders parade is the lineout
While they may struggle at scrum time, the Argentinians are likely to cause the Crusaders all kinds of problems here on Saturday. Jaguares second rower Guido Petti has been an absolute menace all tournament, having won 122 lineouts this season, which is more than the Crusaders Sam Whitelock and Mitchell Dunshea put together. As a result while the Jaguares may try and avoid the scrum, we imagine that the Crusaders will be cautious about kicking to touch, even for penalties, as the Jaguares defensive lineout abilities with Petti in the mix are second to none. Throw Tomas Lavanini into the mix as well for the Jaguares, and that is a potent unit that the Crusaders are really going to have to manage and hope that Hooker Codie Taylor is clinical in his lineout throwing accuracy, even though it is unlikely to stop Petti having a say.
The battle of the back rows is the Jaguares to lose
When the Crusaders have the likes of All Black Captain Keiran Reid and Matt Todd in their back row, you are justified in thinking why we could even make such a statement in the first place. However, when you look at that Jaguares back row it is fast, mobile and highly destructive. Captain and flanker Pablo Matera has been off the charts this year and has become the new talisman for his team that Agustin Creevy once was. Seemingly indestructible, expect the Jaguares back rower to be a constant thorn in the Crusaders defensive arrangements. As regular readers of this blog know, we rate Matera’s partner in crime Marcos Kremer as one of the best in the world of up and coming back row internationals. With Javier Ortega Desio completing the picture, the Jaguares have a devastating strike weapon here which will take its toll on the Crusaders if they are constantly having to keep these three in check. With a bench boasting veteran Manuel Leguizamon and powerful youngster Tomas Lezana, the Crusaders Keiran Read and Matt Todd will have to draw on every last drop of their combined wealth of experience to keep the Crusaders on a level footing in this part of the park.
There are two things the Jaguares should be afraid of – very afraid!
What we saw last weekend in the Crusaders/Hurricanes semi-final convinced us that fly half Richie Mo’unga and winger Sevu Reece are going to be making a lot of headlines in Japan in a few months. Put the two together on a rugby pitch and any opposition side could suddenly get tunnel vision. Mo’unga is a live wire with an extraordinary eye for opportunity and the accuracy in his kicking and passing abilities that make them stick. He knows what winger Reece can do and how to put him in space. The Jaguares may be so busy just trying to figure out what these two are doing, that they could very easily end up at sixes and sevens defensively. If too much focus is placed on trying to contain these two Crusaders X-factors then far too many gaps will open up in the Jaguares back line defences, which the likes of centre Jack Goodhue, Reece’s partner George Bridge and fullback David Havili will ruthlessly exploit. How this gets managed by the Jaguares on Saturday will be key, and if not done properly will make the South Americans’ phenomenal attacking prowess null and void.
We all know what the Jaguares backs can do – but will the Crusaders allow them the space to do it?
Here lies the rub, players like Reece and Mo’unga need space to operate in but too much space also allows the Jaguares back three opportunists to counterattack from any part of the park if the execution isn’t spot on. The Jaguares have five backs who have shown time and again that they can create something out of nothing. The Crusaders have traditionally relied on the calm head and experience of veteran centre Ryan Crotty and the electric youngster Jack Goodhue to keep things tidy in the centre of the park. However, with Crotty out injured, it will be the raw power and youth of Goodhue and the impressive Braydon Enor having to keep an experienced Jaguares and Pumas centre partnership of Matias Orlando and Jeronimo De La Fuente in check. Given the unpredictability of the Jagaures backs in open play, we imagine that the Crusaders will keep it much tighter than perhaps their own backs are used to playing. With fullback David Havili safe at the back for them and also able to run and kick it from deep, expect to see Reece and his fellow Crusaders winger George Bridge have a slightly quieter game than they are used to, and a lot more of the ball played up the middle of the field and through the forwards as opposed to out wide.
We are really looking forward to this contest as we imagine are most neutrals, with England and France also probably taking a keen interest in Saturday’s match given that they will be up against most of the Jaguares when they meet Argentina in Japan in a few months time. The weather should favor a fast running game, but given what is at stake it remains to be seen if either team favors such a strategy. The Crusaders are likely to keep it close and slowly wear down a potentially travel fatigued Jaguares side. That’s what we think is likely to happen, although in terms of a spectacle that we know both these teams can put on display, we hope it doesn’t. The next time a lot of these players meet it will be back in Buenos Aires in a fortnight for the opening game of the Rugby Championship between Argentina and New Zealand. So with that being said and given what’s on the line, form and home advantage clearly favor the Crusaders. It would probably be too much of a fairy tale ending for the Jaguares dream season to end with the silverware, so we’re handing it after much heated debate to Super Rugby’s seasoned finalists the Crusaders by 10 points as they seek to tire out the visitors in the final quarter.
Having said that, should the Jaguares make history on Saturday, then we unashamedly admit that we’ll be raising the roof. We have enormous respect for the Crusaders and their proud legacy in the tournament, but there is no denying that a Jaguares win on Saturday would be great for Super Rugby as a whole, the game and add a fine element of spice to the build up to the World Cup. Also it would be nice to see the Jaguares Coach Gonzalo Quesada have something to celebrate after a long season stuck in his lonely coaching box. We have to confess to feeling a bit sorry for him all on his lonesome up there this season, when all the other teams have a coaching staff of at least three, but all the more credit to him pulling off such a memorable season with such limited resources. So in short all the very best of luck to two superb sides and their supporters and give us a game to remember!