Archive for the ‘Super Rugby 2019’ Category

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.

Verdict

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!

 

 

 

 

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.

Nicolas who?

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.

Verdict

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.

Verdict

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!