The much-hyped Jaguares could make a big statement in the pre-season fixture against the Stormers this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Do the results of pre-season fixtures matter? In the past, one would have reason to answer 'no' to this question. These matches usually provide teams with an opportunity to gel and experiment before the season-proper commences. Results are secondary to performances.
However, we find ourselves in an atypical situation as the start of the next Super Rugby tournament draws close. The Jaguares, Kings and Sunwolves have been added to the competition. The addition of these teams has forced a change to the schedule, and may also force a change in the thinking of their respective opponents.
Not much is expected of the Kings and Sunwolves. The Kings have suffered setback after setback in the lead-up to their Super Rugby comeback. The Sunwolves have battled to get a team and coaching staff in place ahead of their tournament debut.
By contrast, many are expecting the Jaguares, Argentina's new franchise, to do well. The squad is stacked with Test stars (Nicolás Sánchez, Ramiro Herrera, Santiago Cordero, Agustín Creevy, Juan Manuel Leguizamón and Pablo Matera to name a few). Many of these players excelled at last year's World Cup. In theory, they should be more than competitive, and should win a lot of fans with their adventurous style of play.
That theory will be put to the test when the Jaguares play the Stormers at Newlands this Saturday. While there will be no log points on offer, both teams will be looking to make a statement. The Jaguares' future opponents will also be watching closely to see if they can learn anything about Super Rugby's most feared newcomer.
The Bulls, Stormers, Cheetahs, Sunwolves and all five of the New Zealand franchises will face the Jaguares once during the preliminary stage of the 2016 tournament. Those in the same conference (Africa 2, namely the Lions, Sharks and Kings) will play against the Argentinians twice during this period.
The Jaguares will also need to come to grips with the length and intensity of the tournament. While the new structure sees South African teams travelling less than in previous years, there will be no respite for the side from South America. Indeed, April promises to be an especially hellish month for coach Raul Perez's side. The Jaguares' three-week tour to New Zealand will be followed by a trip to Tokyo. Thereafter, they will fly down to Port Elizabeth to face the Kings.
The Jaguares should aim to make an early statement in the tournament. And it's for this reason that they may show their hand in the pre-season, starting with the coming clash against the Stormers at Newlands.
One can expect to see a fierce contest at the scrums and breakdowns, and an intent to play the game at a high tempo. The Stormers should be tested across the board, and particularly on defence.
The teams will announce their respective lineups on Thursday.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images