The Cheetahs’ decision to rest several top stars for the trip to Argentina should come back to haunt them when they take on the Jaguares on Saturday.
Much as the Lions did in the previous round, Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith has opted to freshen up his side and in the process decided that key starters Raymond Rhule and Torsten van Jaarsveld are best left at home, with Fred Zeilinga and Paul Schoeman moved to the bench.
Considering that at their best the Cheetahs were pushed close at home to the Sunwolves last weekend, the decision to limit the minutes for those important members of the squad, while understandable from a conditioning perspective, puts the Cheetahs instantly on the back foot.
The Jaguares struggled on the road last season but at home continue to impress, backed by a passionate crowd at Velez Sarsfield and noticeably getting more purchase from their pack and set-piece.
Saturday will see Raul Pérez be without Nicolás Sánchez for the second time this season – this time due to suspension after he missed the opening win over the Kings through injury – but even with Sánchez unavailable the Jaguares have enough talent at their disposal at half-back to cope, even though the Argentina number ten was excellent last weekend.
Showing a greater balance between upfront power and backline flair than we saw in 2016, the Jaguares look a threat to the Sharks and Lions in Africa 2 Conference and will confidently target five points from Saturday’s fixture in the Argentine capital.
Youngsters such as Tomás Lezana and Gonzalo Bertranou continue to impress, while Jéronimo de la Fuente at inside centre has started the season brightly, finding himself in the top ten for offloads and tackles so far this season.
Unless the Cheetahs entirely new front row can handle the strain in the scrum, then the outcome of Satruday’s fixture seems obvious.
The last time these teams met: The Jaguares’ first-ever match in Super Rugby was a classic in Bloemfontein, as the new franchise snatched a one-point win in an entertaining 34-33 victory. Early yellow cards for Martín Landajo and Sánchez put the visitors on the back foot, with the Cheetahs scoring four tries in 14 minutes to open up a 24-3 lead. But the Jaguares came roaring back through a Landajo double, plus tries from Agustín Creevy and Rodrigo Báez, to set up a nervous second half.
Players to watch: The first try scorer last weekend, Joaquín Tuculet has started the new season in fine form for the Jaguares and should play a prominent role in attack against the Cheetahs. Solid under the high ball, where Tuculet has stood out thus far in 2017 is in his combination at the back with Santiago Cordero and Ramiro Moyano; with the trio smoothly interchanging and regularly looking for work. Tuculet will also have a major role to play as a distributor with Sánchez out.
As for the Cheetahs they have a new captain in scrum-half Tian Meyer, and the 28-year-old former Lion is in excellent form with four assists so far in three matches, which is the most in the competition. His smart draw-and-pass for Oupa Mohoje’s score and then well-executed flat pass to set up Clinton Swart’s try last week were both quality bits of skill. Playing with real confidence, he should make an impact.
Team news: Veteran playmaker Juan Martín Hernández will start at fly-half for the Jaguares. The 34-year-old’s selection is one of two changes made to the Jaguares starting line-up. Jaguares head coach Raul Perez has also brought in Marcos Kremer to the second row as a replacement for Guido Petti. Experienced prop Ramiro Herrera is set to make his first appearance of the season from the replacements bench, while former Argentina Sevens representative Bautista Ezcurra is in line to make his Super Rugby debut after being named as back-line cover.
Scrum-half Tian Meyer will captain the Cheetahs. The front row has been overhauled with Danie Mienie, Elandré Huggett and Tom Botha taking the field. In the second row Armandt Koster replaces Justin Basson in the four jersey while Henco Venter rotates with Paul Schoeman dropping to the bench. Ryno Benjamin moves from outside centre to 14. There are a handful of players new to the bench this week with Joseph Dweba, Carl Wegner, William Small-Smith, Boom Prinsloo and Shaun Venter all providing cover.
Form: The only previous encounter between these teams saw the Argentinian club snatch a one-point win against the Cheetahs after trailing by seven at half-time. The Cheetahs have lost their last seven games away from home, last tasting victory on the road in a Round 3 clash with the Sunwolves last season. The Jaguares have won each of their last three games when hosting South African opposition, winning each game by 12 points. The Jaguares have the best ruck success of any team in the competition, winning 98 percent of rucks and losing just 1.7 rucks per game on average.
Prediction: The Cheetahs’ selection and Jaguares bright start to the season should lead to a healthy home victory, likely with a bonus point, as the Jagaures bid to go top of Africa 2. Jaguares by 14
2016: Jaguares won 34-33 in Bloemfontein
Jaguares: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Santiago Cordero, 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 Santiago García Botta
Replacements: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera Paz, 18 Ramiro Herrera, 19 Ignacio Larrague, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Santiago González Iglesias, 23 Bautista Ezcurra
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Michael van der Spuy, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Ruan van Rensburg, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Tian Meyer (c), 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Henco Venter, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Elandré Huggett, 1 Danie Mienie
Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Paul Schoeman, 21 William Small-Smith/Boom Prinsloo, 22 Shaun Venter, 23 Fred Zeilinga
Date: Saturday, March 18
Venue: Vélez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires
Kick-off: 16:40 local (19:40 GMT)
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Pablo Deluca (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)