Los Jaguares will be a contender for the finals in the first year of the expanded Super Rugby competition.
Make no mistake that this not a team that has been created in urgency. It is one that has been well-planned and has talented players and coaches that are born to participate in finals.
Los Jaguares will have more than 20 players who played in the last Rugby World Cup [RWC], in fact, 17 of the match day 23 who played against the Wallabies will be available.
At the same time some of the older Pumas have returned to Europe. Over 30s like Marcos Ayerza, Horacio Agulla, Marcelo Bosch and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe will not be playing Super Rugby and nor will Juan Figallo, Mariano Galarza and Juan Imhoff, in their late 20s.
And Tomas Cubelli is at the Brumbies.
And don’t think that local Argentine players are nervous about playing overseas either. In 2011, in their second year of the Vodacom Cup in South Africa, the Pampas XV was undefeated.
The Jaguares’ squad is made up from many former Pampas XV players. You can count the undefeated 2014 and 2015 Pacific Cup wins as good overseas experience in preparation for the Super Rugby tournament for those few who have not played in big test matches.
And if fresh players are needed they can get them from the second national team who will play The Americas Rugby Championship against USA, Canada, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil – and from the national U20 “Los Pumitas” who always have new players developing.
As I mentioned above, they are more or less the Los Pumas of 2015 re-branded. It is a motivated and cohesive team with test match experience and high desire to be champions in the inaugural year.
They have a well-bonded coaching staff, with the strong leadership of Head Coach Raúl “Asper” Pérez, who filled that role for the 2015 Pampas XV and knows each player in his team very well.
Los Jaguares are on the same programme as Los Pumas. Head Coach Hourcade (Los Pumas) oversees the professional teams of Argentina Rugby. He has a close relationship with Perez; they are good friends, sharing the same goals. Perez was the forwards coach for the RWC 2015 and the assistant of Mr. Hourcade in the coach’s box.
I want to see the contribution of Felipe Contepomi as backs’ coach adding his knowledge and rich experience with top European clubs.
I like the firm leadership of skipper and hooker Agustin Creevy, and backrower Juan Manuel Leguizamón will be an able assistant. In the backs the class of flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez and game instinct of “El Mago” Juan Martín Hernández will steady the organisation of things at the back.
“El Mago” Juan Martín Hernández – Argentina v Wallabies 2015 RWC semi-final
The team will obviously lack experience in the competition especially against Super Rugby teams who play with a high tempo.
Not having some of the older players who are back in Europe they are a young side with an average age of under 25 and this can be a weak spot when the side has to switch to Plan “B”.
Their talented staff are rugby savvy, but have no experience in Super Rugby. They have mentioned they are in a learning experience process – although I reckon they will be quick learners!!
Since Cubelli has elected to play with the Brumbies there is now no experienced back-up for scrumhalf Martín Landajo. The ones in the wider training group have played only one or two tests in the South American Championship.
Los Jaguares have only seven games in their own country compared to, say, the Super Rugby finalists last year, the Hurricanes and Highlanders, who have ten each. As with the Sunwolves, their travel time will be the longest of all the teams.
Flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez – key player for Los Jaguares
Creevy, Leguizamón, Sánchez and “El Mago” have already been mentioned, but fullback Joaquin Tuculet is also a prized player.
Rugby fans will also enjoy the powerful forwards with THP Ramiro Herrera, lock Tomás Lavanini – and the abrasive back row of Pablo Matera, Facundo Isa and Leonardo Senatore.
And also expect some magic moments from young backs Santiago Cordero, Manuel Montero and Matías Moroni.
Importance for Argentine rugby
Having a team in the Super Rugby is very important for Argentina rugby, both in terms of players’ development and in the financial aspects of the business. The broadcast rights’ royalties are an important source of monies for the UAR and they want to transfer part of this to grass roots programs to improve the amount of quality players for their professional teams.
Football has a huge following in Argentina but it will help rugby union that the high quality of Super Rugby is on TV. The rugby union fans are passionate about their sport and you will see that in home games at the ground. You can guess that average attendance at Velez Sarsfield FC will be around 20K, and noisy.
And, for sure, the impact of Los Jaguares will be huge in the way clubs play rugby in Argentina. Amateur clubs will try to emulate the coaching programs and be in tune with the professional team.
I wish Los Jaguares to be 2016 Champions and I believe they can do it. However, we know that Super Rugby is a long and hard competition, with great teams aiming for the trophy.
I will say they will finish as one of the top four clubs this year.