New Super Rugby franchise Jaguares are targeting a playoff place in their debut season in the expanded southern hemisphere rugby competition, says coach Raul Perez.
The Buenos Aires-based team are, along with the Japan-based Sunwolves, new to the annual competition and will play in the South African Conference, where they begin their campaign in Bloemfontein on Friday against the Cheetahs.
“We know we have a very good squad but on the other hand we realise it’s our first year in the competition and we’ll have to face many new things,” Perez told Reuters.
“We are very proud that many experts consider us as a potentially strong force in Super Rugby but we must be cognisant of our inexperience and having to play at a much higher level than we are used to, week in and week out. We have to be cautious.
“Reaching the playoffs will be a fantastic outcome for us,” said the 50-year-old former Argentina international, who served as one of the country’s assistant coaches under Daniel Hourcade at last year’s Rugby World Cup.
“I believe we can achieve it because we have a good team but it will be a challenge with all the travel that we face.”
The involvement of Jaguares in Super Rugby comes four years after Argentina first competed in the Rugby Championship with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
“It’s very important for Argentine players to have intense competition and it is a massive boost for those who play and who like rugby in Argentina because we are now going to have a regular diet of a high level of rugby throughout the year,” Perez said.
“It also offers much possibility for the development of our game at all levels.
“The Rugby Championship has already offered us the opportunity to realise what we need to do to improve and as a result we’ve seen more and more players of an international profile come through.”
Although it was first announced two years ago that Argentina would be awarded a Super Rugby franchise in 2016, Jaguares were only unveiled in mid-December, 72 days before their first match.
“We have been working on this process for a year but getting together as a team has only happened since the start of the year,” Perez said.
“We have worked hard to persuade players to stay in the country rather than go to clubs in Europe.”
The Jaguares, who will host their home matches at Velez Sarsfield in the Argentine capital, have been preparing in South Africa since the start of the month.
Their 34-man squad is dominated by Argentina internationals, including World Cup players Agustin Creevy, Nicolas Sanchez and Santiago Cordero.