Super Rugby

Super Rugby final: Crusaders facing a team that won't fear them

Cape Town - The playoff phase of Super Rugby has followed a predictable script but one thing that could be said about the final in Christchurch next Saturday is that the Crusaders will be facing a team that won’t fear them in the same way that other potential opponent might have, reports.

Kick-off is at 09:35 (SA time).

While the Crusaders were pushed much closer by the Hurricanes in their semi-final than most people would have anticipated, the Jaguares provided the performance of the round with the blend of power and skill that they produced to easily beat the Brumbies earlier in the day in Buenos Aires.

Considering that the Brumbies had enjoyed a seven match unbeaten run before this clash, and that last defeat did happen to be a narrow five point defeat to the self-same Jaguares at the same venue, you might have expected them to have the better chance of the two underdog teams this weekend.

That thought was quickly buried though by a Jaguares team that opened up a 20-0 lead before conceding a try on the stroke of half-time.

That Folau Fainga’a try did just keep the Brumbies in the contest at the halfway point, at least theoretically. The reality though was that even though the Brumbies did enjoy an unexpectedly comfortable advantage in the scrums, the game was over as a contest, and the Jaguares proved that by almost doubling their score in the second half while the Brumbies didn’t bother the scorers again.

And their lock Guido Petti didn’t waste any time saying what the Crusaders supporters might already have been thinking: The Jaguares do not fear playing in New Zealand and will travel to Christchurch for their first final in the competition with some hope.

"This is a dream come true. We have come a long way since a disappointing first season not too long ago,” said Petti.

"Each year we have improved and now we are in the final. We are looking forward to playing the Crusaders or the Hurricanes.

"It would be wonderful to have the final here at our home ground in front of such passionate supporters, but we will not fear travelling to New Zealand."

Neither should they. While the Jaguares did lose badly to the Crusaders the last time they played them, which was when they went down 40-14 in Buenos Aires last April, that was before they started gathering momentum and turned the corner on an Australasian tour when they won all four of the games they played.

Indeed, they have lost only one of their last four games against New Zealand teams in New Zealand, and that was a narrow loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin on a day when many would have thought the Jaguares were unlucky not to win. Their record in Australasia in the last two years reads played 8, won 7 and lost just one.

Although the Brumbies were without No 8 Pete Samu, one of the stars of their big quarter-final win over the Sharks the previous week, against the Jaguares, the manner in which they were dispatched by the South American team should be seen as an ominous warning to the champions.

For Brumbies captain Christian Lealiifano it proved a disappointing 150th appearance as it confirmed this is where his career with the franchise he has served so well over a long period of time stops. He would love to have finished it off with an appearance in a final, but admitted that the Jaguares were just too good for his team.

"I am really disappointed with the result, but the Jaguares were very good and put a lot of pressure on us which, inevitably, resulted in mistakes,” said the flyhalf.

"I am leaving the Brumbies now, but my heart will be with this club forever. I have had wonderful times here.”

The Jaguares have started most of their recent games quickly and this one was no different, with a Tomas Cubelli capitalising on a Toni Pulu mistake to score the first of five tries after just five minutes. It was the exact converse of last week’s game against the Sharks, where the Brumbies surged strongly from the kick-off.

One thing that has turned in the Jaguares’ favour just recently and which goes some way to explaining why they are suddenly so much more formidable is their discipline. In this game they conceded just four penalties in the first half and that helped them suffocate the Australian team.

Instead it was the Brumbies that gave away penalties and Joaquin Diaz Bonilla kicked two to stretch the advantage to 13 points before Tomas Lavanini went over from a lineout to make the gap an imposing 20 points.

When the Brumbies did score just before half-time it was on a rare, perhaps their only, visit into the opposition 22 and were slightly flattered to be only trailing by 13 points at that stage. They were good though in making sure they sustained the pressure when they did get into the attack zone and that may just have caused some nervous flutters among some Jaguares supporters.

The Brumbies needed to hit back hard in the third quarter and they did enjoy the bulk of their attacking opportunities in the match during that period. Much like the Brumbies were against the Sharks in that period the previous week in Canberra, however, the Jaguares’ defence always looked too strong and it quickly became apparent in the second half that the Jaguares were not going to slip though. Once they had absorbed the pressure they scored three more tries to give a 31 000 crowd, their biggest one to support them on their home ground this season, plenty to celebrate.

Just like the top four sides advanced to the semi-final, so the best two teams by some distance have now made the decider. What underlines that is the ease with which the Jaguares overcame the Hurricanes, who are probably third best ahead of the Brumbies, in Wellington during their Australasian tour. It was that result more than any other that should give the Jaguares some reason to feel they can make further history next Saturday by winning the competition for the first time.

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