The Jaguares fought back from a 24-3 deficit to beat the Cheetahs 34-33 and claim a monumental win on Super Rugby debut. JON CARDINELLI reports.
In 2013, the Southern Kings became the first set of newcomers to win a Super Rugby match on debut. The plucky side from the Eastern Cape beat the Western Force 22-10 on a heady day in Port Elizabeth.
Three years later, and the Jaguares have gone one better. The Argentine franchise won its first Super Rugby match, and did so away from home.
That feat alone will go down in history. The quality of the fightback, of course, will also be remembered.
The Cheetahs led 24-3 after 25 minutes thanks largely to the poor discipline of the visitors. Indeed, the Jaguares will look back on that period of play with embarrassment and shame. They will know that a series of brainless infringements so nearly cost them the game.
The Cheetahs did well to rush and nullify the Jaguares attack. Francois Venter scored a long-range try after intercepting a Nicolás Sánchez pass. Sergeal Petersen almost scored in similar fashion before he was hauled in by the cover defence.
It was at that breakdown in the 18th minute where Sánchez infringed cynically, and was shown a yellow card. Seconds later, Cheetahs hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld made a charge for the tryline, and lost the ball forward. Referee Stuart Berry asked the TMO to review the incident, and the footage revealed that Jaguares were again guilty of foul play.
Scrumhalf Martín Landajo had attempted to kick the ball out of Van Jaarsveld's hands before the hooker had an opportunity to ground it. However, the footage confirmed that Landajo had only succeeded in kicking Van Jaarsveld in the head, an action that caused the attacking player to drop the ball. Berry brandished a yellow card, a sanction that resulted in the Jaguares spending the next 10 minutes with only 13 men on the field.
The Cheetahs scored two more tries during this period. And yet, they will regret the goal attempts missed by Fred Zeilinga. The Cheetahs flyhalf left as many as 10 points on the park in the first stanza.
The Jaguares came into this game as the favourites due to the experience of their lineup. When they were restored to their full complement late in the first half, their strength at the breakdown and on attack came to the fore. Their lineout also outclassed that of the Cheetahs. By the end of the half, they had fought back to trail by 24-17.
The Jaguares scored first after the break through Rodrigo Báez to level the scores. Despite the poor start to the match, a famous win was still on the cards.
The Cheetahs scrummed well during this period, and Zeilinga was more accurate in front of goal. The flyhalf converted two penalty attempts to steer the hosts to a 30-24 lead as the game entered the final quarter.
But as the game opened up, the visitors thrived. The Jaguares launched a counter-attack from deep, showing impressive appreciation of space and no small amount of skill in contact.
Landajo accepted the final pass and crossed the line for his second try of the game. Sanchez's conversion edged the Jaguares into a 31-30 lead with 15 minutes remaining.
The difference between the Cheetahs, a young side, and the Jaguares, a team stacked with Test stars, was evident in those final moments. The former made silly mistakes. The latter handled the pressure better, and took excellent options.
The Jaguares halfbacks were the villains of the first quarter, and the heroes of the last. Sánchez slotted a drop goal in the 71st minute to hand his side an important four-point buffer.
Replacement Niel Marais kicked a penalty goal in the 74th minute to close the gap to one point. The Jaguares, however, continued to force the Cheetahs back into their own 22.
This is where the game ended, and with the visitors celebrating a famous win at the final whistle.
Cheetahs – Tries: Francois Venter, Penalty try, Torsten van Jaarsveld, William Small-Smith. Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (2). Penalties: Zeilinga (2), Niel Marais.
Jaguares – Tries: Martín Landajo (2), Agustín Creevy, Rodrigo Báez. Conversions: Nicolás Sánchez (4). Penalty: Sánchez. Drop goal: Sánchez.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Reniel Hugo, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Paul Schoeman, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Niel Marais.
Jaguares – 15 Joacquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9, Martín Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Rodrigo Báez, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Lucas Noguera.
Subs: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Facunda Isa, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Santiago González Iglesias, 23 Matías Orlando.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images