Preview: Jaguares v Highlanders

Date published: July 8 2016

The Highlanders face a tricky assignment against the Jaguares in their penultimate league match in Buenos Aires on Saturday.

The 2015 champions are in fourth place in the New Zealand Conference standings, a point adrift of the Hurricanes but are still well positioned to reach the play-offs as they have 43 points on the table which gives them a good opportunity of securing the final wild card place for the knockout rounds in the Australasian Group.

The Jaguares might be second from bottom in the Africa Two Conference, but they will be no pushovers. They claimed only their third win of the campaign, when they beat the Bulls in the previous round, and will now be hunting for their first ever back-to-back wins in Super Rugby as a result.

Both sides are renowned for their attacking ability with the Highlanders sixth highest for clean breaks (146) in this year's competition and the Jaguares are ninth (125).

The Argentine side are also fourth highest for defenders beaten (301) while the Highlanders are, surprisingly, in 14th place in this department (215).

Where the defending champions do have the edge though is in the individual statistics, where, like last year, their All Blacks have made a big impact on attack.

Matt Faddes, who has dropped to the bench after scoring a hat-trick of tries against the Kings last weekend, is joint top tryscorer in the tournament with nine five-pointers while Malakai Fekitoa leads the competition's offload statistics with 24.

Although this will be the first meeting between the Jaguares and the Highlanders, the home side lost all their matches against the four other New Zealand sides this year. 

Players to watch: Although the Jaguares have been struggling this season, their captain Agustín Creevy has impressed with several inspirational performances. Creevy is dangerous with ball in hand and will look to build on his fine effort against the Bulls where he scored a brace of tries. 

The Highlanders' All Blacks halfback duo of Lima Sopoaga and Aaron Smith will be expected to provide the spark for their outside backs to showcase their wide range of skills. Sopoaga has impressed throughout the campaign and is the tournament's fifth highest pointscorer with 137 points while Smith's slick service makes him arguably the best player in his position in the world.

Team news: The Jaguares have named experienced centre Juan Martin Hernández in their starting line-up. Matías Moroni drops out of the side to make way for Hernández with Jerónimo de la Fuente shifting to outside centre this week. Elsewhere it is an unchanged back-line from the one that beat the Bulls last Saturday. Changes are also limited in the pack too as Javier Ortega Desio replaces Guido Petti in the second row.

The Highlanders have named a strong matchday squad for this crucial clash. Seven All Blacks and a 50th game milestone are the significant features of the team named by head coach Jamie Joseph. Returning to the team are All Blacks Elliot Dixon, Aaron and Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Waisake Naholo. Patrick Osborne will play his 50th Super rugby game. Apart from Dixon, Joseph has brought in Joe Wheeler, Siosuia Halanukonuka and James Lentjes to freshen the pack.

Form: The Jaguares registered only their third victory of the season when they beat the Bulls 29-11 in Buenos Aires. Before that, they suffered a narrow 29-22 loss against the Kings in Port Elizabeth before the break for the June Tests, in a match which both Tomás Lavanini and Ramiro Herrera received red cards. That result followed a heavy loss against the Lions the previous week.

The Highlanders were made to work hard for victory in Port Elizabeth against the Kings last weekend, but eventually claimed a comfortable 48-18 victory. That was a crucial result as they went into the international break at the end of June after suffering a 27-20 defeat away at the Hurricanes.

Prediction: Although the Jaguares will give a good account of themselves, in front of their home crowd, the returning All Blacks will give the visitors the edge. Highlanders to win by six points.

The teams:

Jaguares: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 12 Juan Martin Hernandez, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Javier Ortega Desio, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro 
Replacements: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Ignacio Larrague, 20 Marcos Kremer, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Matías Orlando, 23 Lucas González Amorosino

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Josh Hohneck 
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Te Aihe Toma, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes

Date: Saturday, July 9
Venue: Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires
Kick-off: 18:40 local (21:40 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: Rohan Hoffmann, Federico Anselmi
TMO: Santiago Borsani