DURBAN - The Jaguares, even before they played their first game of Super Rugby in 2016, were always considered a potential threat. Their potential was never really released however, until recently, with the Argentine team starting to play like a team of internationals - which they are.
Made up of a large contingent of the Los Pumas team that have grown so much in recent times, this sudden surge should not be seen as surprising. What is probably more interesting is just how long it took them to finally start impressing.
They won four games in their inaugural season, then seven in 2017, showing a lot of progress, but also highlighting a number of their problems. They were seen as real Jungle Big cats on home turf, with their partisan crowd behind them, but on the road, they were mere pussy cats.
They also had a huge discipline problem, throwing away promising positions with a number of yellow cards, or reckless penalties. This season, they also started rather inconspicuously, losing their opening three games. It was not until they went on tour, where everyone’s guard was down, did they spring into life.
Suddenly, this team of ill-disciplined rough diamonds were shining on Australian and New Zealand soil as they won their four tour games in a row, beating the Blues, Brumbies, Chiefs and Rebels. Suddenly, having never been a threat to the play-offs, the South African conference had a South American contender.
The Jaguares are currently on 29 points, second in the African conference, and eighth overall, meaning they are in play-off contention. They also have a pretty good run of games remaining.
They face the Sharks and Stormers at home in the following two weeks, before taking on the Bulls away and finishing with the Sharks again at Kings Park in the last game of the round robins.
They will believe they can win their upcoming two home games with ease as well. Well, they might believe that, but the Sharks will certainly try and put a stop to such thoughts.
It will be a brutal encounter coming up for the Sharks, who are in a good position coming off a win at home against the Chiefs. However, they know that the travel to Argentina does not make things easy at the best of times, and with the opponents playing so well, they will have a lot to ponder.
The Jaguares are in equally fine fettle as they managed to thump the Bulls 54-24 at home in a dominant display this past weekend. They will be feeling motivated by the fact that they are at home, that they beat a South African opponent so well, and that they are playing for the pride of the play-offs. One thing that has been learnt, this Latin team plays well when there is some pride at stake.
Never before have the South African teams had to consider the Jaguares a threat to their play-off chances. The Stormers are pretty much out of the running after losing to the Sunwolves, and they still have to play away to the Jaguares; the Bulls and Sharks are in a real tussle; and the Jagaures are the best placed to nab a wildcard spot - and who knows, even more.
The Lions may have top spot at the moment, but they have been faltering of late and could be in for a bit of a shock should the Jaguares maintain their charge. What is clear though is that the African conference is wide open, and only wins will do for every team still in the race.