SA must follow Jaguares

Brenden Nel

While some former Australian Test players bemoan the Jaguares’ success in this year’s Super Rugby competition, the truth is that Argentina’s contenders should be celebrated – and South African coaches can learn a lot from how they’ve overcome adversity to be on the brink of winning the SA Conference.

Let’s be honest, it is a bit embarrassing to see the Jaguares – a team most South Africans don’t consider on par with local franchises – at the top of the conference heading into Round 17.

It would take a catastrophe for them not to clinch the conference, helped as much by the schizophrenia of local franchises as the Jaguares’ ability to overcome adversity.

The blame-game is popular in SA Rugby these days. The mass exodus of players chasing the rand, pound and yen has decimated the normal deep playing depth that we’ve had for years. But rather than adapting to the circumstances, local coaches have found excuses and shrugged their shoulders rather than getting their hands dirty.

Contrast this to Argentina’s only team, who have been decimated by overseas call-ups for years. At one point they had their entire Test team playing in Europe, until the lure of Super Rugby allowed them to formulate a programme to bring through young talent.

Just last season we were all talking about how the team rises and falls on the form of Nicholas Sanchez and how he has been instrumental in their play.

Well Sanchez was signed by Stade Francais and the team has grown this season.

The same goes for the blistering pace of Santiago Cordero or the bulk of Facundo Issa – both standouts the previous year who disappeared to Europe. The Jaguares didn’t complain, they simply got on with the job.

While the South African belief in the depth has seen local administrators chase more teams in more competitions while ignoring the exodus of players, Argentina has done the opposite. They have – with the limited playing resources they have – done like Scotland and Ireland and focused on the principle that less is more.

They’ve concentrated on quality over quantity and they’ve focused on keeping a few experienced individuals in the team rather than trying to spread their quality over the length of six franchises.

And then there is the coaching. The Jaguares have gone through three coaches in four years, and improved every season. Contrast that to the results and changes in SA franchises and the difference couldn’t be more stark.

By doggedly sticking to a set playing style, getting their hands dirty in coaching and being resolute in their focus, they have rotated players more than any SA franchise and have continued to develop in the process. On their tour of Australia and New Zealand in recent weeks, all 28 players received almost the same game time, and they won three out of four matches, being unlucky not to beat the Highlanders in their opening game.

How many SA franchises rotate without being forced to?

In this context, just think about one example – how much game-time has the likes of Manie Libbok been given at 10 this season?  Ditto for Curwin Bosch and Damian Willemse?  Every time the argument comes up, there is an excuse. Bosch cannot get more than 60 minutes a game at 10 before the Sharks self-destruct with poor substitutions.

How many really believe in the squad system and “processes” they talk about every week?

Add to that the fact that this year the Jaguares have broken their “duck” in SA, winning in Pretoria and Durban, and it is clear that touring isn’t an issue for their team, even though they travel more than all the SA franchises. They have made Buenos Aires a virtual no-go zone for SA opposition, with just the Lions winning there in the last two seasons. And they play a brand of rugby that is no-nonsense, physical and attacking. Yes all those words can exist in the same sentence.

South African rugby may have the riches but they are slowly being stolen away overseas. Spreading the remaining depth too thin and a mental block on travelling has hurt franchises locally. And to be honest, the coaching depth has fallen behind what Argentina have done week in and out.

If we were honest with ourselves we would have a national indaba and, with a smaller contracting system, match it up with the best coaching structures we can. We would celebrate Argentina’s rise and learn from the team that we tend to look down on. We would get our hands dirty and coach, not just wait for the next young talent to come through the system while losing every decent player to Europe. After all, the talent that we write off locally tends to look superhuman overseas.

Argentina has overtaken SA with their limited resources. They’ve focused it well and used it to their advantage. They have only one team, but they have made sure everything is geared towards success. And in the process they have brought through a number of youngsters.

All this talk of them being a Test team disregards the fact that they have developed more depth than any other union bar the All Blacks. And now that they are challenging the dominance of Australian and South African rugby, they have been criticised. Just this season think of the emergence of the likes of Santiago Carreras, Domingo Miotti, Lucio Sordoni and Sebastian Cancelliere to name a few.

The sad reality is that the Jaguares have used the system well. They’ve won nine matches this year and have won two in South Africa and three on the road in the Antipodes. They are the epitome of a well-coached team with momentum and self-belief.

It’s time South African coaches buried their pride and learnt from their Argentinian rivals, rather than bemoan the poor state of affairs in our franchises.

- Brenden Nel

Let's chat

  • boyo

    You forget that Argentina only picks overseas based players under exceptional circumstances. The carrot is not super rugby but international rugby.

  • Nick

    No doubt, this season the Jaguares are the best team in the SA comp. They fully deserve to go through.

  • John Comyn

    Excellent stuff Brendan! I really enjoy watching them play and it would not be a surprise if they won SR this year. While the rest appear to be deteriorating they seem to be getting better. They also appear to have eradicated their discipline issues. Not so long ago they were literally blown of the park. Almost like they didn’t understand the rules.

  • Herman

    The Jags have eight front line players in Europe who should also return for the RC and WC, a scary thought. Yes the conservative game plan so beloved in this country certainly not doing us any good.

    The Jags utilize an uncompromising defence and a sublime attacking game plan played with vision and clinical execution by some seriously talented players in all positions. Should give the Crusaders a solid go in the final assuming they both get there.

    What does Robert Du Preeez say last week before the Hurricanes game, let’s match them physically and we should be ok. No thought to going in there with all out attack to surprise them or bring something new to the table. No the Hurricanes knew exactly what was coming and planned accordingly. But then again watching the poorly executed attacking moves maybe they are better off defending for 80 minutes.

    Which also brings me to the question of continuity. The Jags have it in chunks yet Rassie reckons he can check out SR for players to fulfill his mission and then, before tests, fly in half a dozen overseas mercenaries at relatively short notice for the RC. The ‘dom krag’ game plan he employs will make it a bit easier to gel his forces but that won’t be enough to win anything. In fact my contention is that in the RC we will be tussling with Aussie to see who gets the wooden spoon.

    The Proteas have shown so far that an underdone team with a backbone of ‘geriatrics’ cannot prosper at WC’s. Heyneke Meyer did the same in 2011 with similar results. I know I sound like a broken record but when the hell are we ever going to learn ?

    I fully agree with the writer, we must grow our teams from within. We need to build a team culture through continuity. We need to thoroughly screen the available talent to identify players with the right stuff and nurture them. More importantly we need to get rid of any coach who still clings to the failed dom krag ideology. Smart coaches turn really talented players into superstars. Get rid of half our administrators and use the money to lock in these players and coaches.

    This four yearly chase for the holy grail that is the WC is not even a good idea. Too many coaches who supposedly plan for it use it as an excuse for poor results. And further, due to the nature of the knockout style competition, one serious refereeing blunder in the playoffs and there’s four years down the drain. Oh well not to worry we’ll try again in four years and the next coach rides the same old beaten up ox wagon.

    In closing let me add my mandatory Lions plug. It’s no coincidence that No 1 and 2 on our Conference log are teams that play ‘expansive’ rugby with real intent. Just in case you haven’t noticed. Cheers.

    • Barry

      Oh Herman, windy as ever, though it is the only time this year that the Lions have given you opportunity.

      You criticize Du Preez, though I am not a great fan at all, you need to keep things in context, he runs a side that has thumped the Lions twice!

      You also go on about the Don Krag style of the Springboks, yet their attack coach heads up the Lions!!

      • Herman

        Barry, simple answer. The players Swys is given at the Boks are not ‘expansive ‘ game specialists and no doubt Rassie insists on a safety first game plan ( dom krag ) hence the failure to convert these players to real rugby. Cheers.

  • Albert

    Mr Contradiction, with his bigoted one eyed view on all things rugby. You first state: “The Jags have eight front line players in Europe who should also return for the RC and WC, a scary thought” and then proceed to state: “Rassie reckons he can check out SR for players to fulfill his mission and then, before tests, fly in half a dozen overseas mercenaries at relatively short notice for the RC”. My oh my but the biggest dom krag here is surely you.

    Not an iota of anything tangible in your monologue, yet again.

    • Herman

      Poor old Albert, those overseas players have been in their system for years and will need very little adjustment. We on the other hand have most of the overseas guys for a few games only since last year and things didn’t go too well anyway. Most of them have been away for years. Plus Rassie is considering players from there that weren’t in the mix last year so how will they blend in. Please compare apples with apples old chap and try and avoid derogatory personal comments, they are unnecessary.

      As for the ‘tangible’ quip, that is your opinion and I respect it just as you should respect mine. These are debates not bouts of one upmanship to prove how clever we are. Cheers.

  • Nick

    Let’s not underestimate the impact Grahame Henry had a few years back on their whole set up.

    Hermie, like Albert has pointed out, the contradictions in what you have written here make your long rant a bunch of nonsense. Your ‘expansive’ fantasies about rugby have no place in the actual game of rugby. The Jaguares brilliant short passing game and integration of backs and forwards is founded on a brutal and skillful breakdown. When they get beaten it’s because they do not have their own way there.

    Just like the Lions ‘Expansive’ game is thoroughly reliant on a powerful scrum and Maul. Have a look at how many of their tries come from this area over the last few years. The stormers weaker than usual pack made this even more apparent last weekend.

    You need to find another hobby.

    • Herman

      See my response to Albert and ditto to you. It’s rather funny that my fantasies have been proven right since 2014 and five years later we are still in the doldrums. Maybe a switch to ‘expansive’ rugby will change our fortunes but for that we need a coach who can coach it. So another year slips by in a dom krag haze. Forget the Lions just try and emulate the Jags but that we will need to leave for next year. Hopefully Rassie can do something right and get Ackers back. Cheers.

  • PureBOK

    Brendan you should know what the WC Bok group will look like? Let me give you some info which is within 1 or 2 player correct… it or not!
    Back 3 : Willie le Roux, Willemse,Kolbe,Dyantyi. The 5th spot will be 1 of Leyds,Nkosi or Mapimpi
    Midfield : Kriel,Am and de Allende
    10 : Pollard and Bosch
    9 : Faf, Jantjies and Reinach
    * Rassie might opt for Frans Steyn to cover 10 and the midfield. Willemse can also cover 10 as 3rd option OR he will take Elton as a 10 and leave F.Steyn out
    1: Kitshoff,Beast and Gqoboka
    3: Malherbe,Louw and Nyakane
    2: Marx, MBombani and Brits
    Locks : Etsebeth,Snyman and the surprise Orie
    L/F : Vermeulen,Kolisi,PSDT,Whiteley and Notshe

    That will give Rassie 15 “black” players. Now don’t fight with me guys I’m not the coach!

    Midfield and loose forwards (backups) not good enough. Rassie WILL take Elton which will be a huge mistake. I will also accomodate Esterhuizen in the midfield and get Serfontein involved in the tests before the WC. Ditto for Marcel Coetzee. Forget about Elstadt. Kwagga and Akker will be 2 very unlucky players which won’t make the cut.

    • Herman

      Starting from the top. The following players are not ready for the WC so don’t even consider them for the RC. Willemse, Bosch. H. Jantjies. Players who just haven’t got the right stuff. DDA. Those 6 props you mentioned, apart from Gqoboka and Nyaka maybe, have either been unable to dominate or at times have been schooled by the opposition and that’s at SR level. Brits is over the hill, goes down in every match, when he plays that is. Notshe has done bugger all to deserve a place. Kolisi is no captain, full stop.

      Pointless however for me to give you alternates because my replacements would be players with real rugby smarts and Rassie’s game plan does not accommodate those. Take the wings, plenty of oomph there but wasted as the wings never get the ball at the Boks or with their Franchises for that matter. Might as well fill the backline with forwards.

      The same applies to Elton ( mistake, really ? ) his talents would be wasted with Rassie’s intended game plan. By the way the opposition already know what’s coming from the Boks, they’ve been successfully countering it for years now as our record shows. Your squad confirms it.

      Bleak picture I know but it’s too late once more to break the pattern of past failures. Lets just hope for the best like the Proteas. Cheers.

    • John Comyn

      Could well be but Rassie should look at another option other than Notshe. The guy has had a poor season and not a starter for the Stormers at either 8 or 7. He needs to juggle elsewhere or find another player of color in the LF’s.

  • PureBOK

    Top 8 for SR playoffs

    Crus vs Lions
    Jaguares vs Highlanders
    Brumbies vs Bulls
    Canes vs Stormers

    Crusaders vs Canes
    Jaguares vs Brumbies

    Final Crusaders vs Jaguares

    Winner Crusaders by a country mile

  • Barry

    At this late stage of the competition it is easy to feel a bit deflated because once again, a promising season has petered-out and we are left with little to dispel our disappointment!

    Not withstanding this, turning the cart upside down and trying to emulate the South Americans will not do us any good. Their circumstances and model are entirely different to ours – they have one first tier professional team, we have six!

    Frankly, I am not sure that the SA model is that far off the mark – it is the model I talk of and not the content of said model! It is surely within the detail that the problem lies and that problem pops up repeatedly with nauseating regularity – it is “mismanagement” that I refer to. It lies at the crux of most of our problems!

    There is not a franchise in SA that has not suffered from it, some almost critically. We have in place so many coaches, that simply are not good enough and just don’t have the make-up to perform at the level they have been placed at. To be fair, coaches do not appointment themselves, nor do they fire themselves when they have not performed for years on end, that responsibility sits with the Management, but year after year this responsibility is shirked and supporters are left to suck up another dismal season!

    I have no doubt that we have the players, because quite simply they are in high demand across the globe, but we do not have professional administrators and that is what is letting us down!

    It can be fixed and fixed quite quickly – I always refer to how quickly Jones turned England around, but it will take some tough decision making and some sound appointments to get it back on track.. Do we have the fortitude, I wonder?

    • Herman

      I fully concur with your post, poor administration is at the heart of our problems. I wouldn’t however exclude our coaches from the firing line. Like Rassie they took the job knowing full well what the dynamics were yet took on the job. Greater minds like Mallett turned down the job as he saw the system was unworkable and had the courage of his convictions. The failure to learn from the huge mistakes of the past will continue to haunt us I’m afraid, where have you ever heard of administrators firing themselves.

      I’ve been pounding the keyboard since 2014 on the state of our rugby and can’t believe we are still in the doldrums in 2019. No RC or WC this year will nicely round off ten years of abject failure. Where indeed have all the heroes gone. Cheers.

  • Nick

    Hermie, that’s such a scattergun answer that includes a number of points that really need to be debunked one at a time.
    All I am saying here is that none of the running stuff happens if you can’t lay the foundation. The foundation often involves the prosaic stuff, that many players and supporters of this game appreciate. A lot of this ‘dirty work’ is painstakingly skillful and difficult to achieve.

    Nothing controversial or argumentative with that surely.

    • Herman

      My game plan does not exclude the obvious basics from the equation. The difference is ( if you watch as much rugby as I do ) that most successful teams these past few years have based their game plan on retaining the ball and attacking with purpose. For that you need two things, quality possession and the ability and skills to utilize that ball. The possession is supplied with the ‘dirty’ stuff granted but how you utilize it is where most of our teams come unstuck. Due to the lack of those skills the coaches tend to go for risk free safety first tactics which can be easily countered by the more skillful teams. Hence our ongoing unfruitful years.

      I’m sure you understand that most of our teams go into each match to ‘out physical’ their opponents and defend as a first option. Give them the ball we’ll defend anything is their mantra. Problem is most teams out physical us these days and we haven’t got the skills to counteract that and the rest is history. The more you play expansively the better you will be at it. The Lions proved it year after year.

      Our teams try it once or twice and then revert to type when the going gets slightly tough. Take the Sharks. Klapped the Lions at EP and that was it. They had the ability then but their coach climbed back into his dom krag ox wagon and the Sharks haven’t repeated that effort since. See where I’m going ?


  • Augusto

    Hi, from Argentina here. Someone mentioned Graham Henry, and yes, he has had a great influence in Argentina. Here is why : we don’t have Profesional rugby, but Jaguares. It’s all club rugby here, and that’s it. Every Jaguares player used to play club rugby before been called to play for the national Team or the Super Rugby team. That’s something important to know, and there was where Mr Henry gave the best advice ever :Los Pumas need to score more points, and in order to do it Argentinian players need to improve their skills.
    That advice, was not only for the national team, but for all Argentinian rugby. And listen to it was what we did.
    So, now, it’s all about skills at all age, at all levels.The average Argentinian player don’t have the size a South African player have. Look at Jaguares’ backs, they are like weight player in comparison with Southafrican rugby players, so, in order to be competitive, we need skills.
    So, yes. Graham Henry gave Argentina the best advice ever

    • Augusto

      “are like light weight players in comparison to the the big southafrican”… I what I meant

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