The Cell C Sharks are well-settled in their base in Buenos Aires ahead of the crucial Vodacom Super Rugby match against the Jaguares at Estadio Jose Amalfitani on Friday evening.
Crucial because all intra-conference matches are like double points – the winner takes four or five and prevents the opposition from gaining any more than one or two – and the way things are currently structured in the South African Conference, all wins are going to be vitally important with the pool stages winding down and four rounds left to play.
The Lions lead the Conference with 36 points, while the Jaguares in second (29 points) and the Cell C Sharks in third (28 points) both have a game in hand over the log leaders, and both are currently in the top half of the overall log table and wild card qualifiers at this stage.
“It’s everything to play for, we’re desperate to win this game,” head coach Robert du Preez said from Argentina in the lead-up to the game.
“There’s really no breathing space at this stage of the campaign, we simply have to win every game but the boys are in high spirits, well rested and ready to go.”
Something the coach identified as an area to focus on after the match against the Chiefs was finishing off opportunities that the players create. “There were three certain missed tries when we almost scored and should have, they were certain tries that we didn’t convert, so it’s something we continue to work hard at in training,” he explained.
Although it’s all history now, the Cell C Sharks can take some comfort from the fact that we have won all of the previous four games against the Jaguares. In last year’s clash in Argentina, we won 33-25 and the previous year, it was even closer, 25-22 the final score.
In fact, not one of the four previous games was won by a margin greater than eight points, suggesting that these matches are always closely-contested, tight clashes.
The Jaguares however, are coming off the back of an excellent run of form, having won their last five games on the trot and their previous loss came six matches ago. Although their campaign started off on a disappointing note, losing four of their first five matches, their only other loss came when they were defeated in Buenos Aires by the Crusaders, 40-14.
Both teams will therefore take a lot of confidence going into this game, our record against the Jaguares notwithstanding, but certainly our recent form of three wins in the last four outings and the momentum gained from the continuity in team selection.
Be that as it may, du Preez warned that it won’t be easy against the Jaguares.
“They are a very physical team, one that is well-balanced,” he admitted.
“We’re playing against a Test team, it’s the Argentina national team that has exceptional players in every position. We all saw what happened when they played the Vodacom Bulls (running out 54-24 victors last week) and if you don’t pitch or man up on the day, it’s going to be a long evening.
“But we’re well-prepared and believe that they can be beaten.”