JOHANNESBURG – The good news for the Lions ahead of their Super Rugby opener in Buenos Aires this weekend is that one of the Jaguares’ most influential players of the last three years is no longer part of the squad; the bad news is the home team are packed with Test players and are in very good form.
The Lions, who have never won in Buenos Aires, will be relieved that the man who has given them the most grief in recent times, flyhalf Nicholas Sanchez, is no longer turning out for the Jaguares, the star player having opted to continue his career with French outfit Stade Francais.
It is something that hasn’t escaped the mind of Lions boss Swys de Bruin.
“Look, we haven’t won there before, so we know it’s going to be a huge challenge,” said De Bruin ahead of the teams’ meeting on Saturday in the opening round of this year’s Super Rugby competition.
“The Jaguares are basically the Argentina national team so it makes them a Test side. They’ve played a lot together over the last year, as the Jaguares and the Pumas, so they have continuity and consistency, and that makes them a very dangerous side. The only real good thing for us is (Nicholas) Sanchez isn’t playing for them anymore. He’ll have to be replaced which won’t be easy,” said De Bruin.
The Jaguares are very much the Pumas, who were in action not so long ago in the November Test window and even faced De Bruin, who was part of the Barbarians coaching team for the match at Twickenham late last year.
“The team we’ll be up against this weekend will be similar to that side, so I’ve got a good idea of what we’re coming up against,” said the Lions coach. “It’s going to take a big effort from us if we’re going to make it fourth time lucky.”
New Jaguares coach, Gonzalo Quesada, who has taken over from Mario Ledesma, will have to choose between Domingo Moitti, Joaquin Diaz Bonilla and Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias to wear the No 10 jersey this weekend. The retired veteran star, Juan Martin Hernandez, is also no longer available.
The Jaguares warmed up for the season - their fourth appearance in the competition - with a hit-out against Uruguay in Montevideo at the end of last month, running in nine tries in an emphatic 61-0 victory. Quesada gave up to 40 players an opportunity in that game and will be confident his side are as well prepared for the tournament.
One of the key Jaguares men this year is set to be experienced scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli, who is fit again after missing the entire season last year because of a neck injury. He previously turned out for the Brumbies.
The squad will again be led by the veteran hooker Agustin Creevy, who is also the Pumas captain.@jacq_west