CHRISTCHURCH – The Jaguares face one of the toughest assignments in sport when they take on the Crusaders in tomorrow’s Super Rugby final and if they can somehow muster up a win, it would rank as the most remarkable triumph in the competition’s history.
While the Crusaders were founder members of Super 12 and will be hunting their 10th title in their 14th final tomorrow, the Argentine side blew in only four years ago in the otherwise ill-fated expansion to 18 teams.
They have, however, seized their opportunity with both hands, stacking the team with internationals and creating the one major success story of the game’s desire to raise standards in non-traditional rugby markets.
They made the playoffs last year for the first time and this year won 11 games in the regular season, including an Australasian tour where they beat three former champions and only lost to a fourth by five points.
They enter their maiden Super Rugby final having won 11 of their last 12 games and that, former captain Agustin Creevy believes, means they have no fear in facing the team that have continually set the benchmark for Super Rugby excellence.
“We are very happy to face them because we do so on an equal footing and we go out on the field to beat them,” Creevy said. “We might win or we might lose, but we are at the same level at the teams from this country and when we face them we know we do as their equal.
That speaks of the team’s growth, both on the playing side and the mental side. We always respect New Zealand teams, but we do not see it as an impossibility. Finals are 50-50 and I am sure it will be a great game on Saturday.”
The task is still hugely daunting, however, as the Jaguares will have witnessed when they watched the magnificence of the all-New Zealand semi-final between the Crusaders and the Hurricanes last weekend. The Crusaders have not lost a knockout match at home since Super Rugby started in 1996 and are unbeaten at Rugby League Park since July 2016, a run of 30 matches only extended by the slimmest of margins last week.
Victory for the hosts tomorrow would mean a third title in a row, a feat only previously achieved by the 1998-2000 Crusaders.
Coach Scott Robertson played in that team and would become the first coach to achieve a hat-trick of successive titles if the Crusaders win.
It also would boost his chances of getting the All Blacks coaching role after the Rugby World, when incumbent Steve Hansen will be stepping down after eight seasons in charge.
The Crusaders have the extra motivation of a string of stalwarts playing their final matches in the red shirts with loose forwards Kieran Read and Jordan Taufua, prop Owen Franks and inside centre Ryan Crotty all set for moves abroad.
Crotty has been ruled out of the final along with lock Scott Barrett after they broke bones in the 30-26 semi-final win over the Hurricanes.
Flank Matt Todd said the team were especially keen to send Crotty away with another title.
“You’re gutted for him,” Todd said. “It was his last game for us and he’s a massive part of the Crusaders.
“And I know how much the Crusaders mean to him.”