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High hopes for the Argentine franchise in 2016 never produced the play-off appearance many predicted on the back of Argentina’s dominant run at the Rugby World Cup, but the early signs in year two are that everything is beginning to click into place for Raul Pérez and his experienced squad.
Even without a high number of important players – Nicolás Sánchez was a welcome returnee last weekend – the Jaguares came away from their two-match tour of South Africa with five points on the table, keeping the pressure on Africa 2 Conference leaders the Lions.
Win on Saturday with a try bonus point and the Jaguares could go top, which would be fair reward for a bright start to the new season where they appear to have more balance in their approach.
The vibrant attacking rugby is still there, and always will be with Joaquín Tuculet and Santiago Cordero sniffing for opportunities from the back, but the Jaguares have made early strides when it comes to their decision-making, not always opting for the ‘Hollywood’ pass when safer, more direct options are available.
Factor in the future returns of Martín Landajo, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Juan Martín Hernández and so on, and a big year undoubtedly awaits second time around after last year’s false start.
Were the Lions at full strength then they would unquestionably be favourites for Saturday’s game, even away in Argentina, after blowing off the cobwebs in last weekend’s demolition of the Waratahs.
However without a number of key starters the outlook for this fixture changes significantly. Johan Ackermann has opted for youth in his selection, handing starts in the backline to Shaun Reynolds, 21, at fly-half, along with 23-year-old centre Jacques Nel.
The absense of Franco Mostert, Elton Jantjies, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Lionel Mapoe and more is undoubtedly an early setback, handing the advantage to the hosts.
Not that the Lions aren’t capable of a surprise, but nine changes plus a starting debut for tighthead prop Johannes Jonker turns the trip to Argentina into a tough prospect.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Santiago Cordero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Tomás Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Felipe Arregui, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Santiago García Botta
Replacements: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera Paz, 18 Cristian Bartoloni, 19 Marcos Kremer, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Juan Martín Hernández, 23 Matías Moroni
Lions: 15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Jacques Nel, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith
Replacments: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Andries Coetzee, 23 Sylvian Mahuza