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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Sharks may face Jaguares second string

The Jaguares are facing a dilemma that may just work out in the favour of the Cell C Sharks as the Durbanites go out in quest of the win in the final round of Vodacom Super Rugby that could secure them a place in the play-offs.

The Sharks played against what was tantamount to a Chiefs second string team when they hosted the Kiwi franchise in May. That was because of the All Black north island camp that was staged in the same week. Now they could end up doing the same when they host the Jaguares, though this time it is the Jaguares’ position on the log that will dictate the visiting team’s selection.

It could just have been that some players needed resting as it was a Monday after all, and there had just been two days since a tough game against the Bulls in Pretoria. But the shadow Jaguares team that trained in Durban on Monday was without key players such as Pumas captain Augustin Creevy and flyhalf Nicholas Sanchez, as well as a host of other first choices.

If the Jaguares coach Mario Laudesma is thinking of resting his players in preparation for their quarterfinal the following week it would make sense. The Jaguares have had a tough season that has been compounded by the fact that almost the entire team just trades the black and orange of the franchise with the blue and white hoops of the national side, the Pumas, during the June international break.

The Jaguares players did get a rest the first weekend of the June window, meaning the weekend where the Springboks were playing their exhibition test match against Wales, but they then went into a two test series against the Welsh followed by a one-off match against Scotland. Of course, the travel factor is also a bigger factor for the Argentine side than it is for any of the other competitors (okay maybe not the Sunwolves) in Super Rugby.

If the Jaguares do field an understrength side in their final league fixture before a quarterfinal, which they are assured of regardless of the Kings Park result, they will be doing what Lions coach Johan Ackermann did when he faced a similar situation towards the end of the 2016 Super Rugby season. It will be recalled that Ackermann rested his first choices in the penultimate fixture, thus protecting them from the debilitating impact of the travel. The Lions lost the Jaguares game but ended up making the final by winning two home play-off fixtures.

It will be recalled though that Ackermann’s decision involved a massive dilemma as it meant he jeopardised his team’s chances of finishing top of the overall log (it was why they had to travel to Wellington for the decider), and the Jaguares also face a dilemma - if they choose to rest their top players, it will be on the assumption that the Lions beat the Bulls in the match that will be played in Johannesburg just before the Durban game kicks off.

A Lions win will put the South African team out of reach of the Jaguares on the conference log. Conversely though, a Bulls win will open the way for the Jaguares to play for top spot, and home ground advantage in the quarterfinal.

An unexpected win for the Rebels over the Highlanders in Dunedin earlier in the day could also put a spoke in the Jaguares’ wheel. That result would enable the Rebels to move past the Jaguares into seventh position on the log, and condemn the South American team to a tip to Christchurch to play the form team in the competition and the reigning champions, the Crusaders.

The alternative is that they play the Waratahs in Sydney, something they should much prefer - but first prize must surely still be top spot in the conference and a home quarterfinal, that would probably be against the Lions?

It all depends on how much chance the Jaguares give of the Bulls beating the Lions and the Highlanders losing to the Rebels. According to the way they trained on Monday it seemed they don’t hold out much expectation for either result and may be starting to focus on the quarterfinal rather than on a Kings Park clash that they expect to meaningless to them.

The Sharks are six points adrift of the Jaguares so they cannot overtake the Jaguares. Their best hope is to finish eighth, which would mean they overtake the Rebels if they beat the Jaguares. The Jaguares may be about to ease part of that task, but they still need the Rebels to lose to the Highlanders. Talking of the Highlanders, a Highlanders win over the Rebels will also secure them sixth spot and put them out of reach of the Jaguares, who could otherwise look forward to a trip to Johannesburg for their quarterfinal, something they may fancy as they are already in South Africa.


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