Super Rugby’s newest two teams take on each other for the first time in Argentina this weekend when the Jaguares host the Sunwolves.
Of the two there’s no doubt the Jaguares have taken to their second year in the competition more easily than the Sunwolves, having won four out of their first nine matches, while at home they have become a force aside from last weekend’s rare defeat to the Sharks.
Yet even though the Sunwolves have just the one win under their belts, that victory against the Bulls, head coach Filo Tiatia is right to feel optimistic about the direction of the side.
Against a lagging Chiefs side last weekend the Sunwolves hassled and harried and generally showed plenty of niggle in a far closer defeat than many expected at 27-20.
Jamie-Jerry Taulagi’s red card and subsequent five-week ban was certainly overstepping the mark, but in general the Sunwolves proved that they are up for a battle in the trenches.
That mentality will certainly be required in Buenos Aires, the latest stop on a brutally tough tour that has already featured three matches in New Zealand, and naturally if the Sunwolves do show signs of fatigue given that schedule it will not come as a surprise.
Back to the Jaguares, questions are beginning to be asked not of the side’s personnel given the number of Argentina internationals in the squad, but of the coaching staff led by Raúl Pérez after a disjointed performances against the Sharks.
Are the coaches truly getting the best out of a highly talented group, and one with substantial depth to boot? A disappointing tour of South Africa and subsequent defeat have started to raise those questions after the Jaguares started the season so brightly, enough for many to consider them as play-off candidates.
That optimism has faded somewhat since but Saturday’s game feels ready-made for the Jaguares to click again in attack, and to cut down the handling errors and soft mistakes that have undermined their performances this year and last year too.
For a side this entertaining to not be inside the top half of teams that have scored the most tries in 2017 feels off, especially when the side are fifth for defenders beaten, fourth for offloads, and have made the second-most carries of any team in Super Rugby.
Pérez’s decision to chop and change his backline, bringing in new wingers and a new director in Juan Martín Hernández, may produce the bonus-point win the Jaguares have failed to produce since back in Round 4 against the Cheetahs.
The last time these teams met: Harumichi Tatekawa’s late try put the seal on a first-ever Super Rugby win for the Sunwolves, having gone close against the Cheetahs and Bulls earlier that year, as they triumphed 36-28 in Tokyo against the Jaguares. Yasutaka Sasakura and Derek Carpenter were the other try scorers for the Sunwolves with the boot of Tusi Pisi proving vital as he finished with 18 points. The Jaguares outscored their hosts in terms of tries, with Agustín Creevy, Lucas González Amorosino, Emiliano Boffelli and Facundo Isa all going over.
Team news: Jaguares head coach Raúl Pérez has made a handful of changes for their Super Rugby clash. Into the backline comes Santiago Cordero, Santiago González Iglesias, Emiliano Boffelli and Juan Martín Hernández, replacing Ramiro Moyano, Jerónimo De La Fuente, Bautista Ezcurra and Nicolás Sánchez respectively. Up front Santiago Garcia Botta starts ahead of Lucas Noguera Paz at loosehead while Tomás Lezana comes in for Pablo Matera on the flank.
For the Sunwolves, Timothy Lafaele will lead the side while they also welcome back Takeshi Hino, Keisuke Uchida, Kenki Fukuoka, Shota Emi and Ryohei Yamanaka. Takeshi Kizu, Heiichiro Ito, Hayden Cripps, Fumiaki Tanaka and Teruya Goto have flown home due to injury and will miss the Jaguares clash.
Form: This will be just the second time that the tournament’s youngest teams will face each other after the Japanese outfit nabbed a 36-28 win over their Argentine counterparts in Round 9 last season. The Jaguares have won four of their last five games at home, and only once in Super Rugby history have they lost a home games by more than eight points. The Sunwolves have scored just three points in the opening half of each of their last three games away from home. The Sunwolves have scored 27 percent of their tries on the back of a scrum win this season, a higher percentage than any other team in the competition.
2016: Sunwolves won 36-28 in Tokyo
Jaguares: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Santiago González Iglesias, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Juan Martín Hernández, 9 Felipe Ezcurra, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Rodrigo Baez, 6 Tomás Lezana, 5 Marcos Kremer, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta
Replacements: 16 Roberto Tejerizo, 17 Lucas Noguera Paz, 18 Enrique Pieretto Heilan, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 21 Martín Landajo, 22 Nicolás Sánchez, 23 Matias Moroni
Sunwolves: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Shota Emi, 13 Will Tupou, 12 Timothy Lafaele, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yuki Yatomi, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Yasuo Yamaji, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Koki Yamamoto
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Hino, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Ed Quirk, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Jumpei Ogura, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka
Date: Saturday, May 6
Venue: Vélez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires
Kick-off: 18:40 local (21:40 GMT)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Damian Schneider (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)