The Lions and Jaguares will clash for the third time this season when they go head-to-head in the fourth and final Qualifier at Ellis Park on Saturday.
For the hosts, they are attempting to reach the semi-finals for the third successive year having competed in the showpiece event in 2016 and ’17. They lost to the Hurricanes and Crusaders in the respective finals but, after once again finishing top of the South African Conference, their consistency is to be admired.
Unlike the past two campaigns, however, the Johannesburg-based outfit have endured a much tougher season in 2018 and their opponents this weekend came close to usurping Swys de Bruin’s men.
Only defeats to the Bulls and Sharks prevented the Argentinians from overtaking De Bruin’s outfit and claiming a home game in the quarter-finals. As it is, the Jaguares will have to travel to Ellis Park and face the Lions at altitude but you get the feeling that Mario Ledesma and his charges will not be too concerned.
After disappointing in their first two years in Super Rugby, this has been a marked development by the Jaguares, who have looked far more assured under the former front-rower. He has improved their previously ailing set-piece and been slightly more conservative than the all-out attack approach that encompassed the previous regime.
The Lions are still the favourites, though, and have been on good form recently, winning three of their past four matches. Home form has also been a significant factor in matches between the teams with neither managing to pick up a victory on their travels.
Last year was the closest either came to upsetting the hosts when the Argentinians succumbed 24-21 in Johannesburg but, in the other five encounters, neither have got within 12 points of the opposition.
That should change on Saturday with the South Africans not quite at the same level as the previous couple of seasons. They should ultimately have enough to defeat the Jaguares but it is a difficult game to call with the Argentines going into the contest under little pressure.
The last time the teams met: The Jaguares gained revenge for their defeat in Round Two by overcoming the Lions 49-35 in Buenos Aires. It was the start of a remarkable run which saw them claim eight victories in nine matches as they reached the play-offs for the first time. Bautista Delguy’s first minute score set them on their way and, although Marvin Orie and Sylvian Mahuza responded for the visitors, two tries via Emiliano Boffelli and another from Javier Ortega Desio put the Argentines in command. The Lions did close the gap through Malcolm Marx’s brace and Lourens Erasmus’ effort but Bautista Ezcurra and Ortega Desio completed the win for the hosts.
Team news: Ross Cronje and Aphiwe Dyantyi will start for the Lions on Saturday as they look to make it a third successive semi-final.
They have replaced Courtnall Skosan and the injured Nic Groom in the starting line-up with boss Swys de Bruin making two changes to the side.
De Bruin has also altered the bench slightly following Groom’s enforced absence with Dillon Smit among the replacements, while prop Dylan Smith is selected ahead of Jacobie Adriaanse.
Meanwhile, Jaguares head coach Mario Ledesma has made several changes to his squad to face the Lions.
With qualification already secured last weekend, the Argentinian outfit decided to rest a number of key first team players.
All those duly return with Emiliano Boffelli, Matias Orlando, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Matias Moroni, Nicolas Sanchez and Gonzalo Bertranou named in the backline.
Among the forwards, out go six of the eight which started against the Sharks and in come Javier Ortega Desio, Tomas Lezana, Guido Petti, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Agustin Creevy and Santiago Garcia Botta, while Marcos Kremer is shifted to lock.
On the bench, Ledesma has decided to go with a six-two split with Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lavanini and Juan Manuel Leguizamon providing lock and back-row cover.
2018: Jaguares won 49-35 in Buenos Aires
2018: Lions won 47-27 in Johannesburg
2017: Lions won 24-21 in Johannesburg
2017: Jaguares won 36-24 in Buenos Aires
2016: Jaguares won 34-22 in Buenos Aires
2016: Lions won 52-24 in Johannesburg
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Corne Fourie, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Courtnall Skosan, 23 Howard Mnisi
Jaguares: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de le Fuente, 11 Matias Moroni, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Tomas Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera (c), 5 Marcos Kremer, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Tomas Lavanini, 21 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 22 Martin Landajo, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere
Date: Saturday, July 21
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 15:05 local (14:05 BST, 13:05 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Egon Seconds
TMO: Marius Jonker