The Jaguares head into Saturday’s contest at home to the Reds in Buenos Aires looking for a fourth win of the year.
That return would mark an excellent start to the year for the Argentine franchise who appear to finding their feet, having pushed the Stormers close before returning home and comfortably dispatching the Lions and the Cheetahs.
Partly those last two wins were down to the visitors bringing weakened sides to the Argentine capital, a mistake the Reds appear to have also made ahead of Saturday’s game.
Quade Cooper serves the first match of his suspension while Rob Simmons and George Smith are rested, which all means one things; advantage Jaguares.
Raul Pérez has always had talent to work with since the franchise joined in 2016 but now the Jaguares have plenty of Super Rugby experience, a quality squad looks even deeper – Julían Montoya, Javier Ortega Desío and Santiago González Iglesias do not even make the matchday 23 to face the Reds.
Against the Cheetahs they showcased more of the same brilliant offloading we have enjoyed from Argentina in recent years but combined with direct, bruising carries from Pablo Matera and Tomás Lezana setting the tone.
For a Reds defence that fell away like butter on the end of a hot knife against the Lions – see the ease of Courtnall Skosan’s first try last weekend – that is a major worry.
Pre-tournament hype around the Reds always felt a little misjudged and only the Sunwolves and Rebels have a worse tackle percentage than the Reds on 79.5. Missing one in every five tackles is a recipe for disaster.
Once again the Reds’ hopes in attack rest all or nothing on Samu Kerevi being at his stellar best to get them over the advantage line but the Wallaby cannot do it all on his own.
Exceptional work from the pack is also necessary to keep the Jaguares’ rolling maul at bay, which falls on Stephen Moore to set the tone as he leads the side for the first time since regular captain James Slipper was ruled out for the season with a ruptured Achilles.
Team news: Jaguares head coach Raul Pérez has made just two changes to his starting XV. Fresh from an impressive debut last weekend, Bautista Ezcurra starts on the wing for the Jaguares in place of Santiago Cordero. The other change comes upfront, where loosehead prop Lucas Noguera Paz gets the nod ahead of Santiago García Botta. New faces on the bench include hooker Roberto Tejerizo, who takes the pace of Julián Montoya, while Guido Petti wears number 19 instead of Ignacio Larrague. Rodrigo Baez, Nicolás Sánchez and Emiliano Boffelli are also all named amongst the replacements.
Reds head coach Nick Stiles has chosen to rest George Smith and Rob Simmons. Already without suspended fly-half Quade Cooper and injured loosehead prop James Slipper, Stiles has opted to rotate his side this weekend. Adam Korczyk is on the openside flank while young lock Izack Rodda takes over from Simmons, with Leroy Houston named on the blindside. Jake McIntyre is at fly-half while hooker Stephen Moore returns to captain the side. Moore starts alongside Markus Vanzati and Sam Talakai.
Form: Since that win over the Sharks on the opening weekend it has been downhill for the Reds, with defeats to the Force, Crusaders and Lions. The Jaguares meanwhile have defeated the Kings, Lions and Cheetahs while falling to the Stormers.
This will be the Jaguares’ first encounter with a team from Australia. The Jaguares have now won four of their last five games, more wins than they managed in their first 14 Super Rugby fixtures; a third straight win would set a new club record. The Reds have won just one of their last 16 games outside Australia, losing each of their last six by an average margin of 26 points.
The Argentine squad have scored eight tries from possession originating in their own half, only the Hurricanes (13) have scored more from this distance. Taniela Tupou has scored a try in two of his three games away from home for the Reds, despite coming off the bench in all three of those matches.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Bautista Ezcurra, 10 Juan Martín Hernández, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Tomás Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Marcos Kremer, 3 Felipe Arregui, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Lucas Noguera Paz
Replacements: 16 Roberto Tejerizo, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Ramiro Herrera, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Nicolás Sánchez, 23 Emiliano Boffelli
Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Izaia Perese, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Adam Korczyk, 6 Leroy Houston, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Markus Vanzati
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Kirwan Sanday, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Lukhan Tui, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Lachie Maranta, 23 Chris Kuridrani
Date: Saturday, March 25
Venue: Vélez Sarsfield
Kick-off: 18:40 local (21:40 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand), Damian Schneider (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)