Jaguares on the cusp of something big

Wed, 16 May 2018 08:25
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SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT:  On the back of the Jaguares’ successful tour to Australasia, the Argentina-based team is on track to make their first appearance in the Super Rugby finals since the team’s formation in 2016.

The Jaguares are in fact the first team in the history of the competition to whitewash their Australasian opponents and their four wins from four have skyrocketed the team up the table to compensate for some of their earlier losses in 2018.

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Since the Jaguares joined the competition their results have been somewhat underwhelming. Even the most diehard Argentinian fans would have found little to be positive about in the 11 wins the Jaguares notched up in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, especially when you consider that the team is effectively the national team of Argentina in all but name.

Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, it certainly looks like the Jaguares are finally starting to show some of that potential they’ve been promising since the men in orange were welcomed into the competition.

Unfortunately, however, it looks like their success could be curtailed in the future. Recent rumours have suggested that the Argentina national team could be reassessing their eligibility policy. As it stands now, unless you’re playing in Super Rugby, you’re ineligible to represent the Pumas – but it looks like the sheer number of potential Puma players relocating to Europe is forcing the Unión Argentina de Rugby’s hand.

The current policy was put in place to ensure that the Jaguares were competitive in their first few years of the competition – without incentivising returning home, a number of star internationals would remain playing for their European clubs. Instead of benefiting the Jaguares, however, it seems that the Pumas have simply been hindered by the lack of options available to them.

Having only one feeder team has resulted in very few players being developed for Argentina, which is hardly surprising, and has lead to an abysmal 6 wins in their 25 games played since 2016. If the UAR is considering changing their eligibility policy, you can look no further than this terrible win rate as justification.

And while the Pumas’ lack of success has been problematic in recent seasons and could arguably be fixed by allowing the numerous Euro-based Argentines to represent their country, lessening the eligibility requirements could have disastrous effects on the Jaguares.

Whilst their strict eligibility requirements haven’t kept all of the Pumas players in Argentina, it has no doubt helped retain some of Jaguares’ most important players. In the Jaguares’ inaugural season, 23 of the 32 players used by the Pumas in the 2015 Rugby World Cup were included in the squad – a figure which would certainly have been significantly lower had players been able to continue to be selected for the national team without playing for the Jaguares.

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If the rumours are true and Argentina are able to start selecting players from all over the world, you can expect to see a massive drop in the number of top-tier Pumas representing the Jaguares. The money available in the European competitions trumps that which the UAR can offer its players and inevitably the floodgates will open.

Of course, the long-term strength of Argentina could be amplified due to an eligibility change. If the Jaguares act as a development team for the Pumas then the pool of strong players available will broaden – but it’s unlikely this argument will appeal to SANZAAR, who are already coming under fire due to the supposed lack of competition in Super Rugby at present.

At a time when new broadcast deals are under negotiation and the future competition structure is being hotly debated, Argentina can simply not afford to start fielding a weakened Jaguares team. Whilst it’s unlikely the Jaguares will lose their place in the competition, the last thing Super Rugby needs is even more uncompetitive teams.

With only five games left in the regular season, the Jaguares are in the position where they could cement themselves a spot in the Super Rugby finals for the first time – and what an incredible achievement that will be. Any gloss will be lost, however, if we learn that Argentina’s only Super Rugby franchise is going to be crippled in the coming years. The Jaguares are certainly on the cusp of something big – but whether that’s great success or great failure remains to be seen.

By Tom Vinicombe, RugbyPass

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Team P W D L Pts
Waratahs 12 6 1 5 31
Rebels 12 6 0 6 30
Brumbies 12 4 0 8 20
Reds 11 4 0 7 18
Sunwolves 12 2 0 10 10
Pool NZ
Team P W D L Pts
Crusaders 13 11 0 2 50
Hurricanes 12 10 0 2 45
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Blues 12 3 0 9 17
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Team P W D L Pts
Lions 14 7 0 6 40
Jaguares 13 8 0 5 34
Sharks 13 5 1 7 28
Stormers 14 5 0 9 25
Bulls 13 5 0 8 24