Jaguares give Super Rugby new fang and fizzle
Brumbies will walk into Argentina den after arduous journey by air and bus
Wellington — The Brumbies barely had time to enjoy a postmatch celebration let alone grab a few hours sleep before beginning the long trip to Buenos Aires on Sunday for their Super Rugby semifinal against the Jaguares.
The two-time champions left Canberra by bus in the early hours of Sunday bound for Sydney to catch their flight to the Argentinian capital for Friday’s game. Despite the arduous journey, the Brumbies will arrive in Buenos Aires in confident mood having won their seventh successive game, 38-13 over the Sharks, to reach the last four.
On a sour note, they will be without Wallabies loose forward Pete Samu, who scored two tries before limping off just after halftime with a tight hamstring. Coach Dan McKellar has opted not to risk him due to the long trek and quick turnaround.
“You just feel for Pete, he has been playing really well and he has played such a big role in getting us here to where we are,” McKellar said. “I know we’ve got a little bit of depth in the back row and someone will step up to do a job.”
The Jaguares, effectively the Argentina team in different shirts, reached the semifinal after a superb defensive effort late on helped them to a 21-16 win over the Chiefs. It was fitting reward for a side who have followed a patient and planned programme and shown continual improvement since entering the competition in 2016.
They won four games in their debut season, seven in 2017 and nine in 2018 when they made their first playoff. Topping the SA conference in 2019 with 11 victories, the Jaguares excelled with an efficient, aggressive pack providing plenty of ball to a backline guided by flyhalf Joaquin Diaz Bonilla and sparked by a mix-and-match electric back three.
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Coach Gonzalo Quesada said building close bonds over the past four years had been beneficial in the run to the 2019 semifinals, with their experience crucial in getting them out of tight situations.
“If we look back on the construction period of the team, we talked about the character that the team needed,” he said. “But we need to continue working on the ability to manage match [situations], which in the last month [we have been] improving day by day.”
The table-topping Crusaders, champions the past two years, will host the fourth-seeded Hurricanes in Christchurch in the other semifinal on Saturday. Scott Robertson’s side are heavy favourites to advance to the final, which they would also host, after they dispatched the Highlanders 38-14 on Friday.
They have comfortably beaten the Hurricanes twice already this season. The Hurricanes only lost one other game, to the Jaguares, and ended with more wins (12) than the Crusaders, who won 11 times but lost only twice.
John Plumtree’s Hurricanes have not been as convincing in their victories, having won eight games by 10 points or fewer before Saturday’s 35-28 win over the Bulls. The coach, however, said that highlighted the mental toughness they would need to beat the Crusaders.
“[Close results] have defined our year,” Plumtree said. “We’ve come from behind. We’ve won one-point games. We’ve been behind quite a few times. But the side has really shone.
“The challenge is massive, but it’s something that we can really embrace and look forward to. The pressure will be on them and we can just go down there and have a real crack. I’m happy with where the team is at.”