Johannesburg - To stop the Jaguares this weekend, the Lions know they have to stop the team’s momentum, and that means stopping one man in particular - Pumas playmaker Nicolas Sanchez.
The Argentinean test flyhalf is the heart and soul of all that matters in the Jaguares, and while they have some immense strikepower out wide, it is Sanchez who marshalls, directs, passes and initiates their play.
A quick look at the team’s stats shows that everything runs through his channel, with Sanchez passing more than three times his nearest teammate, while the team’s exits and front foot play often revolves around what he has to do on the field.
His loose forwards feed off his small passes and the strike power out wide usually comes from the forays made up front, with Sanchez the fourth top points scorer in the competition and a key element in his side’s revival after a poor start this season.
So that is why the Lions, while focusing on their own game, are giving Sanchez an extra look.
As the Jaguares key playmaker he is the heart and soul of the side and even though this may well be his last game for the Super Rugby side before heading to France to join Heyneke Meyer’s Stade Francais side, Sanchez is keen to make the biggest impression this weekend for his team.
And the Lions know it all too well, with defence coach Joey Mongalo pinpointing him as the key man to watch.
“He’s the kingpin. If you watch them play he gets them on the board and he exits a lot – I think it is about 80-20 between him and the 9. On attack they thrive in playing off him. He is their mecurial player for them and if he has a good one then they thrive off his performances,” Mongalo said.
“I think you mentioned a big word there momentum. It means they thrive off it and it puts us under pressure. Those are the things we have to stop, we’ve seen it on the footage and we just have to prep to the best of our ability. I think it is still about the things we can do, us being at home and the journey we have been on. We can just build on what has been there in that space.
“I think all round they are good. They have a good setpiece as well and they got some reward there against the Bulls. They can carry through the middle through their loose forwards and their outside backs are lethal. If they get the ball through counter and they can play. For us we have to have a holistic performance, tick the boxes in all facets and be at our best come Saturday.”
The Lions know all too well how to play finals series rugby after being involved in the last two years’ of the competition’s final rounds. And they know what it takes to win at home, with the Jaguares losing all eight of their games in South Africa so far.
But the Jaguares know that all that matters is the 80 minutes on the field, and a lot of unexpected things can happen when you believe as a team. And when your kingpin fires.
History is against the Argentinean team and the Lions are hoping to keep it that way.
But Sanchez may well have a thing to two to say about that.