Less than a year since reaching the Super Rugby final, the Argentina-based Jaguares face the risk of collapsing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was 11 months ago that the only Argentina-based side playing in the southern hemisphere’s premier rugby union club competition fell at the final hurdle, beaten 19-3 by the Canterbury Crusaders in New Zealand.
However, with this season abandoned due to travel restrictions imposed amid the pandemic, the Jaguares’ existence is in doubt.
While New Zealand and Australia are preparing to launch domestic Super Rugby tournaments after many of their containment measures were lifted, Argentina is still under lockdown and the Jaguares do not have the possibility of taking part in a domestic competition even when the lockdown is eventually lifted.
Their only hope of competition would be to join an eventual South African domestic competition, but that would undoubtedly prove costly, particularly given the reduced income from being forced to play in empty stadiums.
“The New Zealand teams will play in New Zealand, the Australians in Australia and the South Africans in South Africa,” Jaguares captain Jeronimo de la Fuente said. “The Jaguares are left a bit isolated and we’re waiting to see if we get invited to another competition. It would be difficult, but it’s also a possibility.”
The Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) has even paved the way for Jaguares players to join foreign sides to allow them to maintain their match fitness.
Winger Emiliano Boffelli has received offers from Paris and English clubs, as have hooker Julian Montoya and center De la Fuente, while Stade Francais are also rumored to be interested in lock Guido Petti.
“I’m going to wait until the last minute to see what decision to take, because I’m counting on” the Jaguares, De la Fuente said. “If an offer needs to come from Europe to help the UAR, I’ll go. It pains me a lot to think that Jaguares won’t exist any more, that they can’t play in Super Rugby.”
Six players, including De la Fuente, will be out of contract at the end of the year.
The suspended Super Rugby competition has sparked increased talk of South Africa’s four participating sides, as well as the Cheetahs and Southern Kings, potentially joining the European Pro 14 competition, which also features teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.
That could leave the Jaguares on their own and with no one to play against.
One possible option would be to join the newly created — and almost instantly suspended — Superliga Americana de Rugby, which includes fellow Argentina side Ceibos, as well as teams from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Uruguay.
However, the Jaguares would be on a totally different level to any of those.
Former Jaguares wing Juan Manuel Leguizamon, who now plays in the US, told Milenium Sports “this generates sadness.”
“I’ve spoken to quite a few players and they’re waiting for a solution. There are 35 or 40 contracts that will disappear,” Leguizamon said.
Losing their Super Rugby representatives would be a huge blow for Argentine rugby, which fought for many years to be invited to the top table of rugby’s yearly competitions.
Finishing third at the 2007 World Cup and then reaching the 2011 quarter-finals allowed Argentina to be welcomed into the former Tri Nations in 2012 to form The Rugby Championship alongside Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Four years later, the Jaguares were admitted to Super Rugby.
“We thought very carefully about the Jaguares project, it was growing and we reached a great position that we had dreamed of,” UAR president Marcelo Rodriguez said. “One way or another, they will be in a competition that will be sustainable for the UAR from an economic and financial point of view.”
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