ARU boss Bill Pulver says beware the Jaguares as Argentina look to capitalise on a seemingly softer draw to Australia’s franchises in the revamped Super Rugby in 2016.
“We’re nervous that Argentina could win the damn thing,” Pulver said ahead of the South Americans’ much-anticipated debut in the competition.
“They have a lot of their Test players in this Super Rugby team and they will be seriously competitive.”
The Pumas surprised many by reaching the Rugby World Cup semi-finals and Pulver has no doubts the talent-packed Jaguares can also turn Super Rugby on its head.
Throw in the vagaries of a complicated four-conference draw for the new 18-team competition and anything is possible.
The Jaguares have landed in the relatively weak four-team Africa 2 Conference alongside fellow debutants the Kings as well as the Lions and Sharks, who finished eighth and 11th in this year’s competition.
In addition to playing their conference rivals home and away, the Jaguares will play the four sides from the Africa 1 Conference – the Stormers, Bulls, Cheetahs and the new Tokyo-based Sunwolves – and the five New Zealand sides – the reigning champion Highlanders, Hurricanes, Crusaders, Chiefs and Blues.
On paper, the draw for Australia’s five teams is far more treacherous than what the Jaguares, Sunwolves and six South African outfits face.
The Stormers and Bulls, for example, won’t even strike a New Zealand opponent until at least the finals in the first year of the new-look competition.
Yet the Brumbies, NSW Waratahs, Queensland Reds, Western Force and Melbourne Rebels will clash home and away for two derbies, plus each play their other two conference rivals, all five New Zealand teams and the Bulls, Stormers, Cheetahs and Sunwolves once.
None of the Australian teams will get to play against the seemingly weaker Africa 2 Conference sides – the Sharks, Lions, Kings and Jaguares.
Pulver, though, doesn’t necessarily believe the Sunwolves, who only announced their coach, Kiwi Mark Hammett, on Monday – less than 10 weeks before their tournament debut – will be easybeats.
“They’ve done a good job signing up their players so they are going to be fine,” Pulver said.
“I actually think they’re going to be surprisingly competitive.”
2016 SUPER RUGBY
Australasian Group: Brumbies, NSW Waratahs, Queensland Reds, Western Force, Melbourne Rebels, Highlanders, Hurricanes, Crusaders, Chiefs and Blues
South African Group: Bulls, Stormers, Cheetahs, Sunwolves, Sharks, Lions, Kings and Jaguares
Australian Conference: Brumbies, NSW Waratahs, Queensland Reds, Western Force, and Melbourne Rebels
New Zealand Conference: Highlanders, Hurricanes, Crusaders, Chiefs and Blues
Africa 1 Conference: Stormers, Bulls, Cheetahs and Sunwolves
Africa 2 Conference: Sharks, Lions, Kings and Jaguares
In the group stages, there will be 17 rounds of matches, where each team will play 15 games and have two byes.
Teams will play six intra-conference matches.
In the four-team African Conferences, each team will play the other three teams in their conference home and away.
In the five-team Australasian Conferences, each team will play two teams home and away and will play once against the other two teams (one at home and one away).
The other nine matches will be a single round of matches against each team in the other conference in their group, as well as against each team from one of the conferences in the other group. The teams in Africa 1 will play the teams in the Australian Conference, while the teams in Africa 2 will play the teams in the New Zealand Conference.
The top team in each of the four conferences will automatically qualify for the quarter-finals. The next top three teams in the Australasian Group and the next top team in the South African group will also qualify for the quarter-finals as wildcards.
The conference winners will be seeded first to fourth for the quarter-finals.