WELLINGTON (Reuters) – It has been a long road to Christchurch for the Jaguares, both literally and figuratively, and the Argentines are determined not to forget what got them through that journey when they play Saturday’s Super Rugby final.
Having won 13 of 19 games around the southern hemisphere this season, then travelled the 10,000 kilometres from Buenos Aires to the south island of New Zealand, the Jaguares face the daunting task of taking on the Canterbury Crusaders.
Anyone expecting surprises from the Argentines as they look to dethrone the nine-times champions at their home fortress, though, would likely be disappointed, said captain Jeronimo de la Fuente.
“We are not going to change the way we play,” the Pumas centre said.
“Yes, we are going to put together a strategy, that is what we do for all teams. But we’re focusing on us. Our game will be the same one we have developed throughout the competition.
“The processes, if you believe in what you do, lead to results. It has taken us four years to reach the final of this tournament.”
That last sentiment has become a mantra for the Jaguares this year.
Those four seasons have taken them from their debut in Super Rugby to the South African conference title and now onto a maiden title-decider.
While there was a clear determination in Argentinian rugby to make the franchise work – former All Blacks coach Graham Henry was an early consultant, for example – turning ambition into rewards is not always straightforward.
Their first match was in Bloemfontein against the now departed Cheetahs and although the Jaguares squeaked a 34-33 win it was to be one of only four that season in a slightly above par start for a new team.
“I remember the first match in Super Rugby against the Cheetahs when we entered an unknown world,” said Fuente’s midfield partner Matias Orlando.
“We didn’t know what it was about. There have been many frustrations along the way but four years later, we are about to play the final. It is completely crazy and we are living the dream.
“It has not been easy to get here and we do not want to waste this opportunity.”
The Jaguares have beaten three New Zealand teams on their way to the final this year and that has given them some confidence they can buck the odds on Saturday.
“I do not know if we or they are better, but on Saturday we play 80 minutes to decide who is the best and we want that to be us,” Orlando added.
“All the experience that we have built over these years makes us very confident and we know that we have the ability to play as an equal to a team that everyone sees as a favourites …”
That confidence does not belie a healthy respect for the Crusaders, who have never lost a home knockout match and will be gunning for a third straight title on Saturday.
“They are very consistent, strong at home and do not lose their hunger,” Orlando said.
“Every year they show that they want to be the best and they achieve it. We are prepared to play this game, we have not come to put them in the shade, we are just hungry to win this game.
“We don’t play finals every day, we want to play good rugby and represent Argentine rugby at its best.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford)