(Reuters) – Argentina’s Jaguares secured second spot in the Super Rugby standings with a rampant 52-10 victory over the Sunwolves in Buenos Aires on Friday as the playoff picture became a little clearer in the final round of the regular season.
The defending champion Canterbury Crusaders, who have a bye, have locked up top spot and the ACT Brumbies will now be third after securing the Australian conference title ahead of their match against the Queensland Reds later on Saturday.
Jaguares will host a playoff quarter-final next week and, if they get through that, the bonus point win means they are now assured of welcoming their opponents to Argentina in the semi-finals on a trip few sides will relish.
Coach Gonzalo Quesada made 12 changes from the Jaguares side that locked up a maiden South African conference title last week to rest some of his top players but they were still far too strong for the Sunwolves in an eight-try demolition.
Wingers Santiago Carreras and Sebastian Cancelliere continued the outstanding form of the Jaguares outside backs with first half tries and the home side were awarded a penalty try on the stroke of halftime.
The forwards took over in the second half with hooker Julian Montoya the beneficiary when the pack rolled a maul 40 metres to the line and lock Guido Petti’s rampaging 56th minute run setting up a try for replacement Juan Cruz Mallia.
Replacement back Matias Moroni crossed with his first touch of the ball and loose forward Javier Ortega Desio was rewarded for his support play with a try in the 64th minute before flyer Cancelliere added his second.
The Sunwolves and Jaguares both joined Super Rugby in the ill-fated 2016 expansion but have enjoyed diverging fortunes over the four seasons since.
The Jaguares are now a strong contender for a first title in their second playoff campaign, while the Tokyo-based Sunwolves have won just seven games in four years and will be axed after the 2020 season.
The Sunwolves have made plenty of friends with their attacking brand of rugby, however, and there was plenty to like about their play at Estadio Jose Amalfitani on Friday.
Winger Gerhard van den Heever scored off a chip and chase and fullback Semisi Masirewa got his 11th try of the season after a flowing move before his deliberate knock down gave away the penalty try and earned him 10 minutes in the sin-bin.
They were reduced to 13 men when their replacement hooker was injured in the second half and are now condemned to finish bottom of the standings for the third time in four years.
Who travels to Buenos Aires next week will be decided over Saturday’s four matches with the Wellington Hurricanes, already assured of fourth place, kicking off the action against the Auckland Blues.
The Waikato Chiefs hammered the Melbourne Rebels earlier on Friday to secure a playoff place, while the Otago Highlanders kept their hopes of post-season play alive with a similar trouncing of the New South Wales Waratahs.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Andrew Both)