The Jaguares return from their bye week and head to Kings Park in Durban to take on the Sharks in Super Rugby.
It is early days still to be talking about play-off permutations but there is no denying the Sharks and Jaguares are right on the heels of the Lions after the first third of the campaign, and should the season carry on as it has so far, then it will be those two teams battling it out for the wildcard spot in the South African Group.
Without question the Jaguares look a more settled group in 2017, aided before their bye by taking on the Lions, Cheetahs and Reds all at home and in the process racking up plenty of table points.
International experience has never been an issue for the Jaguares, but now with one season under their belt and more importantly the key younger players in the side like Pablo Matera an Tomás Lezana fully adapted to the pace of Super Rugby, even the exit of Facundo Isa has not been a disaster.
There are still improvements to be made. Considering Argentina’s reputation for excelling in the set-piece, the Jaguares’ low lineout success percentage comes as a surprise, with only the Rebels less successful. Equally, their scrum is comfortably the least successful around at a rate of 72 percent.
What about the Sharks? Young blood has revived a struggling franchise under Robert du Preez this year, centred around the Du Preez twins along with Curwin Bosch, Lukanyo Am and Kobus van Wyk, who has quietly been one of the signings of the season with five tries to his name so far.
Last weekend’s away defeat to the Lions was half heartbreaker, half a positive sign that against the best side around in the Lions, the Sharks were very much competitive.
Bosch’s praises have rightly been sung and it will be a another point of criticism towards Allister Coetzee if he is not involved somehow with the Springboks come June, as was the case with Rohan Janse van Rensburg.
Both of the meetings between these two sides last year were narrow victories for the Sharks, adding plenty of intrigue with both teams in much better shape one year on.
The last time the teams met: Pat Lambie’s 80th-minute penalty clinched a dramatic victory for the Sharks over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires. Early tries from Tomás Lavanini and Martín Landajo helped the Jaguares out into a 14-6 lead. Two Lambie penalties and a Daniel du Preez try however swung the advantage to the visitors, ahead 19-17 at the break. Santiago Garcia Botta’s late try levelled things up at 22-22 in the final ten minutes, before Lambie stepped up to clinch the game.
Players to watch: Renowned as a bashing centre, Andre Esterhuizen has shown there is more to his game this season with an increasing number of offloads along with a subtle kicking game that has been developed over the off-season. Esterhuizen’s responsibility is still get over the gain-line in order to make space for the likes of Bosch, Am and Van Wyk. He will need to stand tall in midfield against a physical Jaguares centre pairing.
On the opposite side hopes are high for Marcos Kremer, the 19-year-old (terrifyingly born in 1997) who won his first Tests caps for Argentina and looks like a physical hybrid ready to play a major role for Los Pumas over the coming years.
Team news: Sharks boss Robert du Preez has made three changes to his starting XV. Springbok loosehead prop Beast Mtawarira, who was unavailable for selection last week due to the death of his grandmother, makes a welcome return to the run-on side along with fellow Bok Stephan Lewies, who replaces Ruan Botha in the number five jersey. Botha joins Thomas du Toit and Philip van der Walt, who is returning from injury, on the bench for this match. Chiliboy Ralepelle, who was a late withdrawal from last week’s team with a quad strain, has also been named on the bench.
Meanwhile, Ramiro Herrera will make his first start of the season for the Jaguares. The Argentina prop comes back into the front row, setting up a mouthwatering tussle with Tendai Mtawarira of the Sharks, as one of two changes made by Jaguares boss Raul Pérez. The other switch sees Nicolás Sánchez return at fly-half, replacing veteran Juan Martín Hernández.
Form: The Sharks have won each of their two previous meetings with the Jaguares, though at neither half-time nor full-time has either team led by more than four points. The Jaguares have won five of their last six matches including the last three in a row. The Sharks have won each of their last six games at home, conceding more than 17 points only once in that period.
The Jaguares (97 percent) boast the best ruck success of any team in the competition, and lose an average of just 2.4 rucks per game so far this season. Sharks flanker Jean-Luc de Preez has made 73 tackles this campaign, more than any other player and 21 more than Jaguares’ best Jerónimo de la Fuente (52).
Prediction: No reason for this not to be extremely tight once again, after margins of four points and then three, with home advantage likely to have the final say. Sharks by five.
2016: Sharks won 25-22 in Buenos Aires
2016: Sharks won 19-15 in Durban
Sharks: 15 Garth April, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Tera Mtembu (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Beast Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Philip van der Walt, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Inny Radebe, 23 Jeremy Ward
Jaguares: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Bautista Ezcurra, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Tomás Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Marcos Kremer, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Lucas Noguera Paz
Replacements: 16 Roberto Tejerizo, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Felipe Arregui, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Rodrigo Baez, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Emiliano Boffelli
Date: Saturday, April 8
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 15:05 local (13:05 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)