The Jaguares cranked up the heat on the Lions at the top of Super Rugby’s SA Conference when they withstood a Sharks comeback to eventually comfortably prevail 29-13 in Buenos Aires on Friday night.
It was the Argentinian team’s sixth win in a row, and with a try-scoring bonus point to boot.
The visitors had been 17-0 down in the 39th minute before fighting back to 17-13, but the home side took advantage of crucial mistakes by the Sharks and poor discipline – including a red card for captain Ruan Botha – to finish strongly in the last quarter.
It was a big ask for the Sharks, considering only one of the Jaguares had not played in a Test match for the Pumas.
They were also oozing confidence, having won their last five matches in a row, including four in Australasia.
The opening exchanges belonged to the home side as they camped in the Sharks’ half, and it was inevitable that they would open the scoring, with flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez kicking a penalty in the 12th minute.
That was a signal for the Sharks to up their game, and their first visit into deep Jaguares territory earned them a penalty in front of the posts, only for Robert du Preez to duff a sitter. Was this a bad omen for the visitors?
And the Jaguares stretched that early lead in the 25th minute when left wing Ramiro Moyano finished off a multi-phase movement that saw the Jaguares offloading half a dozen times to support runners.
Sanchez extended the lead to 10-0.
And the Sharks were in deep trouble when a quick tap penalty close to the Sharks line by Sanchez resulted in him spreading the ball wide to scrumhalf Gonzalo Bertranou, who put Moyano away for an easy run-in for his second try.
Sanchez made it 17-0.
The Sharks scored the most timeous of tries when Botha knifed through from close quarters after a penalty had been kicked to the corner for the lineout drive.
Du Preez’s conversion sailed through to the sound of the halftime hooter.
The second half started badly for the Sharks as hooker Van der Merwe twice made a mess of his lineout delivery to give momentum to the home side.
However, a turnover by Jean-Luc du Preez in front of the Jaguares posts gave his brother Robert an easy three-pointer, and the Sharks were right back in it at 17-10.
The momentum was very much with the Sharks when Du Preez soon after landed another penalty.
The Jaguares responded with alacrity and worked their way into the Sharks 22, where the pressure forced a penalty.
Sanchez kicked to the corner and Guido Petti crashed over, but the try was disallowed because of a double movement by the lock in placing the ball.
The referee went back to a penalty advantage and again the Jaguares opted for the lineout drive, and once more were kept out by solid defence.
And then it was the Sharks’ turn to fluff a prime scoring opportunity.
Robert du Preez threaded a kick through the defence to the tryline, only for Lwazi Mvovo to knock-on while gathering and diving over.
And the Sharks were punished for that missed opportunity when shortly after, Moyano slipped through the defence around a ruck and sped clear, drew wing Sbu Nkosi and passed to unmarked fellow wing Bautista Delguy.
And it was all over for the Sharks when in a moment of utter madness, Botha shoulder-charged a prone Jaguares player at a ruck, making contact with the head, and he was summarily red-carded by referee Paul Williams.
The destruction of the Sharks was complete when in the last minute, Moyano scored in the corner for the bonus-point try and his hat trick.
Jaguares 29 – Tries: Ramiro Moyano (3), Bautista Delguy. Conversions: Nicolas Sanchez (3). Penalty: Sanchez (1).
Sharks 13 – Try: Ruan Botha. Conversion: Robert du Preez (1). Penalties: Du Preez (2).