The fight for Super Rugby play-off spots intensifies this weekend in Buenos Aires when the Jaguares return home to play host to the Bulls.
It is not often the term ‘away comforts’ is used but that is how we would label the Jaguares’ superb form on the road over the past month.
Wins at the Rebels, Brumbies, Blues and Chiefs were unthinkable after their three losses from five matches at home before their departure. Now they must back that up at Estadio Jose Amalfitani in order to give themselves the best possible chance of making it into the knockouts.
Never before have the Jaguares progressed to the play-offs as it has been a disappointing opening few seasons to their time in Super Rugby. But this is their best opportunity yet as currently they’re in the top eight spots due to winning more games than the teams on their tail.
One of those sides is the Bulls while the Sharks are also level on points with the Jaguares on 24, adding extra weight to Saturday’s game. Should the Bulls come up short in Buenos Aires then they will find it especially difficult to sneak a knockout spot. The Sharks meanwhile face a depleted Chiefs side this weekend in Durban, which is perfect for them as they look to force their way in before the break in June.
While the Jaguares have been disappointing at home this season, they will hope this result goes with form in that each of the two previous encounters have been won by the home team on the day. The Bulls having lost their last nine outside South Africa also bodes well for them.
This is the Jaguares and Bulls’ penultimate game before the internationals with the former hosting the Sharks in another pivotal match next week while the Bulls are at home against the Brumbies. Neither though will be looking past the upcoming 80 minutes that awaits on Saturday.
The last time the teams met: The Bulls gained revenge over the Jaguares for their 2016 loss by beating them last year in Pretoria. A 26-13 win saw Travis Ismaiel and Lood de Jager cross the line while Handré Pollard kicked 16 points. Gonzalo Bertranou scored the Jaguares’ try.
Players to watch:
For Jaguares: The vastly experienced Agustin Creevy will relish the challenge of converting the Jaguares’ fine away form into a home win. The no-nonsense hooker takes on another experienced campaigner in Adriaan Strauss in what is arguably the tastiest match-up of the game.
For Bulls: The absence of captain Burger Odendaal means a switch from 10 to 12 for Handré Pollard. This is intriguing on two fronts as the Springboks could well see this as an option in the June series against England.
Team news: Emiliano Boffelli starts at full-back this weekend, with Joaquin Tuculet ruled out for several months because of a knee injury.
Sebastian Cancelliere takes Boffelli’s place on the left wing while Bautista Delguy completes the back three.
In the pack, the only alteration sees Agustin Creevy come back into the forward eight, with Mario Ledesma keeping changes to a minimum.
Manie Libbok will make his starting debut at fly-half for the Bulls while Handré Pollard takes over the captaincy from Burger Odendaal, one of three players out injured from the team that beat the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria last week and will slot in at inside centre.
Injured lock Lood de Jager will be replaced by Jason Jenkins, who will partner RG Snyman for the first time this season while the flanker berth vacated by Jenkins will be filled by Thembelani Bholi, with Handre Stassen taking over the impact role Bholi had against the Sharks.
Bulls coach John Mitchell has named Trevor Nyakane at loosehead in place of the injured Lizo Gqoboka, with Conrad van Vuuren at tighthead.
Former Junior Springbok JT Jackson has been named on the bench and will make his Bulls and Super Rugby debut if he comes on to the field.
Form: It’s been some turnaround in form for the Jaguares. Five losses in their opening seven games has been turned on its head as they’ve won four games in a row on the road. On their recent trip they beat the Rebels, Brumbies, Blues and Chiefs to go into the play-off spots.
The Bulls are locked on 24 points with the Jaguares and Sharks in the South African Conference after a much-needed 39-33 victory over the Sharks at home last weekend. Before that they lost to the Stormers and Highlanders, the latter bringing to an end a three-game winning run.
Prediction: Surely they won’t let all that good work on their travels go to waste? Jaguares to win by eight.
2017: Bulls won 26-13 in Pretoria
2016: Jaguares won 29-11 in Buenos Aires
Jaguares: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de le Fuente, 11 Sebastian Cancelliere, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Tomas Lezana, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Javier Diaz, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Bautista Ezcurra, 23 Juan Cruz Mallia
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Handré Pollard (c), 11 John-Ben Kotze, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Marco van Staden, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Rudolph Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Nqobisizwe Mxoli, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Hendre Stassen, 20 Nicholas de Jager, 21 Andre Warner, 22 John Jackson, 23 Divan Rossouw
Date: Saturday, May 19
Venue: Estadio Jose Amalfitani, Buenos Aires
Kick-off: 18:40 local (21:40 GMT)
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Pablo Deluca (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)