Tomorrow, the Jaguares and the Crusaders will contest the Super Rugby final in Christchurch. Given that these two sides finished as the top two in the regular season and were the only two teams to beat the Hurricanes, so unlucky to lose out in last weeks semi-final, it is great for the competition that this year’s best will compete to decide the winner.
For the neutral, the amount of test level talent on display, the high stakes and the unpredictability of knockout rugby makes this one of the games of the year.
Coached by Gonzalo Quesada, the Jaguares have come on leaps and bounds since their entry into Super Rugby in 2016. Their progress can be traced in their regular season finishes, rising from 13th, to 10th, 7th and eventually 2nd, this season. Increasingly canny in their ability to control games, and capable of drawing upon the traditional Argentinian reserves of aggression and intensity up front, they have also added a more complex and effective running game to their arsenal in recent years.
In Tomas Cubelli, Matias Orlando and Emiliano Boffelli, they possess three genuinely world class backline operators, who come into the final on top form, having performed consistently well throughout the season. Outclassing the Brumbies 39-7 in the semi-final, with those three running in four tries between them, only reaffirmed what has become increasingly apparent, that this is a side with the physical intensity, technical ability and clinical edge to dismantle anybody.
The threat posed to the back to back champions, by the Jaguares, has not been lost on Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, who stated earlier this week, “at the breakdown, the physicality they bring, they’ve got enough test players in their team to understand how to play at the highest level and (deal with) the pressure,” before adding “it’s going to be another hell of a match for us.”
All week the Crusaders have been sweating on the hand injuries Scott Barrett and Ryan Crotty sustained in their 30-26 semi-final victory over the Hurricanes, it has now been confirmed they will both miss the final. However, even without these two standout All Blacks, the franchise have a number of internationals to call upon. The tight five, consisting of Franks, Moody, Taylor and Whitelock, with Romano possibly replacing Barrett, is unrivalled in Super Rugby.
Likewise, Kieran Read has won it all at number eight, and has been one of the worlds best for a decade. Allied to this experience is the fresh danger posed by younger talents in the back division, such as Jack Goodhue, Sevu Reece (this season’s top try scorer) and David Havili. In Richie Mo’unga they have a fly-half of world class stature, who would walk into most international sides.
Fundamentally however, the impressive list of individuals is not what makes the Crusaders special. They are a collective that is greater than the sum of their parts; efficient, organised, ruthless and unrelenting.
Favourites for a reason and looking to become only the second group of players to win three consecutive Super Rugby titles, it would be unwise to bet against them. A winning mentality, and experience at closing out finals, makes them our tip, against a Jaguares side that could still upset the party.
Written by Joe Ronan