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SPORTS | 15-04-2019 12:16

Jaguares' form in Super Rugby lifts Pumas' World Cup hopes

Jaguares have scored back-to-back wins in South Africa over the past two weeks, including Saturday's eye-opening 51-17 ninth round win over the Durban-based Sharks.

History has shown form in Super Rugby is not a reliable indicator of the likely performance of national teams in a corresponding World Cup year.

The fact an Australian, New Zealand or South African team wins the Super Rugby title in the year of a World Cup doesn't necessarily presage a similar performance by that team's country at the sport's major tournament.

In 1999, no Australian teams made the Super Rugby semifinals but the Wallabies won the World Cup in England. In 2011, the Queensland Reds won the Super Rugby title and New Zealand went on to win the World Cup for the first time in 24 years.

There have been correlations, such as in 2007 when both the Super Rugby and World Cup trophies went to South Africa, but the links between success in both tournaments have been tenuous.

It's true that World Cup squads have often been built around Super Rugby teams. The nine-time champion Crusaders have regularly furnished a large part of All Blacks squads and the Bulls provided the nucleus, and the game plan, for the 2007 world champion Springboks.

But the relationship between success in one tournament and the other has been more one of correlation than causation — until now.

Argentina's Super Rugby Jaguares are unique in that they are virtually the Argentina national team by another name. The symbiosis between the Jaguares and Pumas is obvious, and thus the form of the provincial side presents a compelling basis on which to judge the Pumas' chances at the World Cup later this year.

Japan's Sunwolves contain an echelon of that country's national team. But they're a far more multinational combination than the Jaguares, and less of a guide to national hopes around this year's shortened Rugby Championship and the World Cup.

Signs are good

The signs are good for the national side, especially after the Jaguares' back-to-back wins in South Africa over the past two weeks. Their narrow win over the Bulls in round eight was impressive, though the Bulls played some of the second half with only 13 men and the Jaguares took the lead in that period.

But Saturday's 51-17 ninth round win over the Durban-based Sharks, who were leading the South African conference, was an eye-opener.

The Jaguares scored seven tries to two, providing further evidence they have left well behind the one-dimensional, defensive style which often stymied the development of local rugby.

Centre Matías Orlando — who with Ramiro Moyano and Leonardo Senatore is one of the "tosti", or triplets, from the Tucumán club that's strongly driven the Jaguares' success — scored three tries. Flanker Pablo Matera scored two and others went to scrum-half Tomás Cubelli and winger Matías Moroni.

Aside from signs veteran Pumas like Orlando and Moroni are nearing peak form, the Jaguares have found several exciting new players this season. The latest appears to be winger Diego Miotti, who showed great promise in scoring two tries on debut against the Bulls.

Moroni said the Jaguares produced an "incredible match" to shut out the well-performed Sharks, completing a flawless away mission which boosted the Jaguares from last place to third in the tight, five-team South African conference after eight games, with eight games left until the tournament's knock-out stages.

"It's the first time we've come back unbeaten from South Africa," he said. "It's an important achievement for the group.

"These triumphs give us more confidence to continue on this good path."

Fans in Argentina might be well justified to hope that after semi-final appearances in two of the past three World Cups, the Jaguares-dominated national side might go one step further in Japan this year.

Wonderful tour

This latest victory completes a wonderful tour for the Argentines, who came from 10 points behind last weekend to snatch a late victory over the Bulls in Pretoria.

Winning catapulted the side six places up the combined table to seventh and raised hopes that they can match their performance of last season and make the play-offs.

"I think the whole team deserved the man-of-the-match award rather them me," said outstanding flanker Pablo Matera. "Defeating the Bulls and the Sharks at their stadiums for the first time makes this an amazing tour of South Africa for us. Everyone contributed to this victory, including our replacements, who made huge contributions when they came off the bench during the second half."

Sharks skipper and scrum-half Louis Schreuder was furious with his side after beginning the match as favourites having trouncing the Lions by 37 points in Johannesburg last weekend.

"What a disappointing performance. We did everything wrong and nothing right. There were so many stupid mistakes by us that I lost count. What went wrong? Well, when you concede 51 points in one match there has to be questions about the defence. We host the Reds next and hopefully we can put this match behind us."

- TIMES/AFP/AP

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