Ahead of their final game before the international break, Martín Landajo is able to sit down and take stock of the Jaguares’ progress in their first year in Super Rugby.
High expectations after the heroics of Argentina at the Rugby World Cup were both understandable and greeted with a note of caution. Super Rugby is unlike any other tournament not just because of the quality. The strain from travelling across the Southern Hemisphere and to Japan it seems has to be experienced first to be truly understood.
“It’s a bit harder than we expected. We knew about the travelling but it’s very tiring. We’re not used to travelling that much and it’s something we have to get used to over the next few years,” Landajo explained to Planet Rugby.
“Some teams are better than others – the New Zealand teams especially, and playing over in New Zealand was even worse. But I think some of the games we’ve lost should have been wins. Perhaps next year they will be.”
The Jaguares are certainly better placed to succeed now then back in March. They have cut out the yellow cards – Pablo Matera’s against the Sharks was their first in six games – and reduced the penalties. Much as Argentina did after their first year in the Rugby Championship.
Work has also gone into finetuning their approach. Back in the early rounds the Jaguares were offloading everything. Then barely at all.
Getting the mix right is far from easy, and Landajo and the rest of his side now know that to win in Super Rugby doesn’t just come from line breaks and risky passes. Gradually they are adding more structure.
“We were a bit overexcited to play and in defence we were anxious. We talked about the yellow cards and have tried to improve it, and I think in the last few games we’ve been OK,” Landajo explained.
“When we started in the Rugby Championship we also committed too many penalties and we saw that it was impossible to win a game that way, with a man in the bin or infringing too often. We improved our discipline and in the Rugby Championship that’s been good, and now it’s happening in Super Rugby.
“We also realised that we have been playing too much. Other teams when analysing us saw that, so they didn’t commit numbers to the breakdown and, and our kicking game wasn’t that good as a result.
“We’re trying to add some more kicking into our tactics and to be a bit more precise. Of course we don’t forget about how we played in the World Cup – we will always try to play. But we’re trying to mix it up a bit.
“It’s more structured than people realise. People watch the highlights and see great moments and amazing tries, but the best teams in Super Rugby kick the ball and play positionally before making those moments happen.”
Were some of those penalties harsh? It’s another reason to push for neutral referees in next season’s competition, eradicating any doubt.
Landajo and his team, to their credit, won’t go about blaming the officials for those losses, narrow or large. Even if suggestions that they might have a case to do so are being made elsewhere.
“It’s a difficult question. In Argentina we’re taught to never talk about the officials or how they do their job, so it’s not up to us to do that. I’ll never say we lost a game because of a referee,” he said.
“It’s not the first time though that I’ve been asked about the referees.
“Every time I’m asked, I think, “why do you ask me that?” Maybe the person asking already knows the answer, that it must be because something happened or because someone on the outside has seen something. So there’s your answer.”
Better then for Landajo and the Jaguares to focus on what they can control.
So far life for them in Super Rugby has been a turbulent daze, although after the chaos of the first match, a 34-33 win over the Cheetahs, that should have been expected.
“It was our first game and the ball never stopped. We weren’t use to that. Fortunately it went our way, but it easily couldn’t have.”
Now eleven games in Landajo feels like he and his side belong. Having grown up watching the competition, following the Blues, that must be some feeling.
It’s not exactly surprising to hear Landajo pick out Carlos Spencer as a player he looked up to – “Unfortunately he wasn’t Argentinian”. The great All Blacks maverick and the Argentina side we saw at last year’s Rugby World Cup share a lot in common.
They’ll always take that extra risk in order to produce something special. And right now the Jaguares might be learning how to excel in Super Rugby the hard way, but there’s nowhere else they’d rather be.
“We feel like we’re part of Super Rugby now. It feels normal. It’s fun and difficult, but it’s the right tournament for us,” Landajo concluded.
“In Argentina we’ve had full stadiums with lots of people coming to watch us. They’re happy to see us bringing the best teams to Argentina and have given us a lot of support.
“To be the first professional rugby team in Argentina and to be in this tournament, it’s incredible. It’s the best one in the world, and we’ve come from zero to here. We’re really enjoying it.”
Photo credit: UAR/Gaspafotos/Juan e Ignacio Gasparini