The Highlanders need a bonus-point win against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires on Saturday to stay in contention for a home quarter-final. TYRONE ENGEL reports.
The champions are fourth in the New Zealand conference, one point behind the Hurricanes, two behind the Crusaders and three behind the Chiefs. They also occupy the final wildcard playoff spot (in fifth place) in the Australasian group, just four points ahead of the Waratahs.
With only two rounds left in the conference stage, and a tough final match against the Chiefs in Dunedin next weekend, the Highlanders need to beat the Jaguares if they are to have any chance of topping the New Zealand conference.
The Dunedin-based franchise will fancy their chances of winning in Buenos Aires, having welcomed back Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Elliot Dixon, all of whom were all rested against the Kings last weekend. The Landers back three of Smith (four), Naholo (five) and Patrick Osborne (three) have scored 12 tries between them this season, while Matt Faddes, on the bench for Saturday, has scored nine.
The Jaguares have given up four try-scoring bonus points in 2016, against the Hurricanes, Crusaders, Lions and Kings, but none of those games were played in Buenos Aires. While they are out of the running for a playoff spot, they will be looking to finish their maiden Super Rugby season strongly at home against the Highlanders and Lions.
HEAD TO HEAD
This will be the teams' first meeting
STATS AND FACTS
– This will be the first time the Jaguares and Highlanders meet; the Jaguares have faced the four other New Zealand sides, losing all four.
– The Jaguares snared their third win in the last round and will now be hunting for their first ever back-to-back wins in Super Rugby as a result.
– The Highlanders have won six of their last seven away games outside New Zealand.
– The Highlanders (99.4) are the only team outside South Africa who average fewer than 100 carries per game this season.
– Agustín Creevy became the seventh hooker to score a brace of tries this season after only five hookers scored twice in a match from 2011 to 2015.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Jaguares||Nicolás Sánchez (120)||Martín Landajo, Agustín Creevy (6)||Facunda Isa (454)||Matias Alemanno (75)|
|Highlanders||Lima Sopoaga (137)||Matt Faddes (9)||Ben Smith (805)||Tom Franklin (112)|
Jaguares – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 12 Juan Martin Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Javier Ortega Desio, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Subs: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Ignacio Larrague, 20 Marcos Kremer, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Matías Orlando, 23 Lucas Gonzáles Amorosino.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 James Lentjies, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Subs: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Te Aihe Toma, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Sanitago Borsani (Argentina)
Photo: Rob Jefferies/Getty Images