For the second year in a row, the Lions have lost to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.
Coach Johan Ackermann’s decision to rest several first-choice players for Saturday’s third-round Super Rugby match backfired badly as the Jaguares triumphed 36-24, as they did last season.
On that occasion, in the final round-robin fixture, Ackermann rested his entire first-choice side to keep them fresh and healthy for the following week’s quarter-final.
But while they won both the quarter-final and their semi-final, they gave up the chance to finish in top spot overall and had to travel to Wellington to take on the Hurricanes in the final, which they lost.
Ackermann will hope this defeat doesn’t cost his side as well. Not only did they lose, which will affect their momentum, they may also come to rue the points dropped at the end of the campaign.
The Lions, minus the likes of Lionel Mapoe, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Elton Jantjies and Franco Mostert, among others and because of different reasons, were completely outplayed by the Jaguares, who arguably produced their best performance in Super Rugby since joining the competition last year.
They were precise in the set-pieces, they bossed the collisions and breakdowns and they ran hard and fast at the Lions, forcing the visitors into making mistakes and slipping tackles.
The Lions’ discipline also dropped in the face of the non-stop attacking play.
There was much for the Jaguares to cheer about; there was nothing for the Lions to be happy about.
Fullback Joaquin Tuculet was the first to cross the whitewash, the Argentina international finishing off a strong attacking move inside five minutes. Flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez’s first penalty a few minutes later put the home team 8-0 up and it was a deserved lead for the Jaguares.
But out of nothing, the Lions struck back through captain Warren Whiteley, the No 8 running an excellent line to take a pass and go over almost untouched from close range.
The conversion by young flyhalf Shaun Reynolds closed the gap to just one point, but the Lions wouldn’t get close to scoring again in the half.
The Jaguares dominated the rest of the first 40 minutes, running hard at the Lions, who were asked to make plenty of tackles, while their discipline let them down on a number of occasions, and it was hardly a surprise when Andries Ferreira was binned for a second high tackle.
Before his being sent to the cooler, the Jaguares scored their second try through wing Ramiro Moyano, who finished off in the corner after wave after wave of attacking play, and then two further Sanchez penalties put the home team 21-7 up at the break.
That lead was stretched to 17 points soon after the restart with a further Sanchez penalty, before the Lions gave themselves a sniff of a chance when replacement prop Jacques van Rooyen powered his way over the line.
But then the Lions let centre Jeronimo de la Fuente in for the Jaguares’ third try and soon after that, the game was all but sewn up by the hosts.
First the Lions lost hooker Robbie Coetzee to the bin for a high tackle, and then Sanchez finished off a flowing move in which several of his teammates had handled the ball.
Two late tries by the Lions, by Malcolm Marx and Whiteley, gave the score some respectability, but if truth be told, Ackermann’s men were never in the contest.
They will now hope to regroup and hit back against the Reds this weekend.
Jaguares – Tries: Joaquin Tuculet, Ramiro Moyano, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Nicolas Sanchez. Conversions: Sanchez (2). Penalties: Sanchez (4).
Lions – Tries: Warren Whiteley (2), Jacques van Rooyen, Malcolm Marx. Conversions: Shaun Reynolds (1), Jaco van der Walt (1).
The Sharks made a serious statement of Super Rugby intent on Saturday night when they demolished a Waratahs team that were supposedly on the warpath, having been smashed by 55 points by the Lions the previous week.
The 37-14 result at the Shark Tank was a shot in the arm not only for the Sharks but for South African rugby in general, while Australian rugby reels in shock after a generally underwhelming start to Super Rugby.
Between the Sharks and the Lions, the Waratahs have shipped 93 points in a horror fortnight in South Africa, which suggests the Lions and the Sharks are going to be in an almighty tussle to top Africa Pool 2 in the convoluted Super Rugby Conference system.
The Sharks smashed the 2014 champions despite losing their captain Patrick Lambie to injury in the second minute, in the build-up to the opening score to Tera Mtembu after up and-coming former Stormers lock Ruan Botha had done the damage with a charge up the touchline.
Curwin Bosch, the outrageously gifted 21-year-old fullback-flyhalf, came on and played a blinder in the place of Lambie.
There is still some work to be done on his defence, but he could evolve into a Springbok great. He kicked an astonishing six penalties and two conversions, and scored a try for a personal tally of 27 points.
His goal-kicking is certainly as good, if not better, than his namesake of the ’70s, Gerald, the Transvaal flyhalf who kicked the Boks to a series win over the All Blacks.
The Sharks backline also lost French fullback Clement Poitrenaud just after halftime and finished the match with a reshuffled backline, but it did not seem to bother them in the slightest.
The intensity and character with which the Sharks played indicated that it did not matter who played where. They still would have won, and they have sent out a warning to the competition that they mean business, especially at Kings Park.
The Sharks host the Kings next weekend, and there is no chance that they will underestimate them after the Eastern Cape side gave the Stormers a decent fight at the weekend.
Curwin Bosch scored 27 points after replacing the injured Sharks captain Patrick Lambie. Photo: Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePix
The Sharks could not have asked for a better start after Botha made a charge that created a try for No 8 Mtembu, although it came at a serious cost, with captain Lambie leaving the field injured. The extent of his injury is still to be determined.
Bosch, replacing Lambie, soon kicked a penalty to put his side 8-0 ahead. The Waratahs were battling to get their hands on the ball and soon after, flank Jack Dempsey was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle, the Sharks earning a penalty for Bosch to convert and they were 11-0 up after 13 minutes.
The visitors upped their game and camped in the Sharks’ half, but were left reeling when Bosch intercepted near the halfway line and had the pace to outstrip the cover defence.
His conversion put the Sharks in an imposing 18-0 lead after just over 20 minutes of the game.
On the half-hour mark, the Waratahs were on the end of good fortune when a kick over the top bounced perfectly for outside centre Israel Folau, his try converted by Reece Robinson.
This was to a degree negated by the Aussies immediately giving away a penalty in front of their posts, which Bosch duly kicked, and he then nailed his fourth penalty three minutes before halftime to give his team a 24-7 lead.
That swelled into a 31-7 halftime lead after wing Kobus van Wyk broke out from the Sharks’ half and showed great gas to speed home.
The Sydneysiders clearly had a roasting at the break from coach Daryl Gibson and they scored the first try after the resumption, the second for Folau, converted by Robinson.
But the damage was done and two more Bosch penalties were enough to embarrass the Waratahs 37-14 in the end.
Sharks – Tries: Tera Mtembu, Curwin Bosch, Kobus van Wyk. Penalties: Curwin Bosch (6). Conversions: Bosch (2).
Waratahs – Tries: Israel Folau (2). Conversions: Reece Robinson (2).