The Jaguares will have to raise their game significantly to have any chance of beating the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
Since edging the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in round one, the Argentinians have lost five in a row – to the Sharks, Chiefs, Stormers, Blues and Hurricanes. They did pick up losing bonus points in the first three defeats, but it's been a disappointing run for a team stacked with Test players. Last weekend's 40-22 loss to the Hurricanes was their biggest of the season and left them 11 points behind the Lions, who are at the top of the Africa 2 conference.
In stark contrast, since losing their opening match of the season against the Chiefs in Christchurch, the Crusaders have claimed five successive wins: against the Blues, Kings, Sharks, Lions and Force. They were impressive during their two-match tour of South Africa, but less so last weekend in Perth as they required a 79th-minute try to snatch a 20-19 victory. That saw them finish round seven in third position in the ultra-competitive New Zealand conference with 22 points, although they have played one less game than the first-placed Chiefs (29) and second-placed Highlanders (23).
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has made five changes for this match, with Joe Moody starting at loosehead prop, Scott Barrett at No 5 lock with Sam Whitelock being rested, and scrumhalf Andy Ellis, outside centre Kieron Fonotia and Israel Dagg returning to the backline. Dagg will be making his first appearance of the season, having sustained a shoulder injury while playing for North Harbour last September. He has had just 30 minutes of club rugby in 2016, and while he travelled with the Saders squad to Perth last weekend, he sat in the stands.
Meanwhile, Jaguares coach Raúl Pérez responded to his side's Wellington defeat by making nine changes and bringing in players who were rested for the first part of the tour and only joined the squad in New Zealand last week. Hooker and captain Agustín Creevy, tighthead prop Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, No 5 lock Matías Alemanno, openside flank Juan Manuel Leguizamón and No 8 Facundo Isa all come into the pack. In the backs, Gonzalo Bertranou and Juan Martín Hernández will start at scrumhalf and flyhalf respectively, with Jerónimo de la Fuente at outside centre, Matías Moroni on the right wing and Joaquín Tuculet at fullback.
If the Jaguares are to have any chance of winning on Friday, they will need those players to stand up and deliver. Hernández, in particular, will have a crucial role to play in terms of calling the shots for his team and ensuring that they don't take too many risks inside their own half. The Jaguares' expansive game has won them many admirers, but at times they have been over-ambitious, with the opposition punishing their mistakes. On Friday, they will need to play more pragmatic rugby and take every scoring opportunity that comes their way.
If the game does become loose, though, the Crusaders could cause the same sort of damage to the Jaguares as they did to the Lions two weeks ago.
HEAD TO HEAD
This is the teams' first meeting.
STATS AND FACTS
– The Crusaders have won their last five matches; the last time they won more consecutive games was in 2011 (six in a row).
– The Crusaders have won their last five matches against teams from outside New Zealand and are yet to lose such a match this season (won four).
– The Crusaders return home for the first time since round four where they’ve won five of their last six matches, those five victories coming by an average margin of 24 points.
– The Jaguares have scored only twice in the opening 20 minutes of matches this season, the joint fewest in Super Rugby, while Crusaders have scored the most in the same period (seven).
– The Crusaders boast the most effective scrum in the competition this season with a 95% success rate; they’ve lost just two of 40 scrums on their own feed in total.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Crusaders||Richie Mo’unga (70)||Nemani Nadolo, Johnny McNicholl, Mitchell Drummond, Richie Mo’unga, Ryan Crotty (3)||Nemani Nadolo (443)||Jordan Taufua (41)|
|Jaguares||Nicolás Sánchez (42)||Martín Landajo (4)||Santiago Cordero (266)||Pablo Matera (48)|
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Tim Boys, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Sean Wainui, 23 Ben Volavola.
Jaguares – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Matías Orlando, 13 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 12 Santiago González Iglesias, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Juan Martín Hernández, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Rodrigo Báez, 6 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Santiago García Botta.
Subs: 16 Facundo Bosch, 17 Felipe Arregui, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Juan Cruz Guillemaín, 20 Pablo Matera, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Joaquín Paz, 23 Lucas González Amorosino.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)
Photo: Gustavo Ortiz/Getty Images