By Steve McMorran ,AP
Argentina’s Jaguares made a winning debut in Super Rugby but the other newcomers, Japan’s Sunwolves and South Africa’s Kings, lost in the weekend’s opening round as did both of last year’s finalists.
The Jaguares, featuring a strong core of players from the Argentina Rugby World Cup squad, showed character when they rallied from 24-3 down to beat South Africa’s Cheetahs 34-33 in Bloemfontein.
The Sunwolves put up a better performance than expected after a limited preparation, going down 26-13 to South Africa’s Lions in the first Super Rugby match in Tokyo, but the Kings were outclassed by compatriots the Sharks 43-8.
Defending champions the Highlanders were beaten by the Blues 33-31, and last year’s runners-up the Hurricanes crashed to the ACT Brumbies 52-10.
The Jaguares were expected to be the most competitive of the new teams which have expanded Super Rugby from 15 to 18 teams this season. But to win on debut they had to overcome a messy and ill-disciplined start, losing two players to the sin-bin and conceding four tries, including a penalty try, inside the first 25 minutes.
The Jaguares lost Argentina flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez and international teammate and scrumhalf Martin Landajo to yellow cards, but responded with four tries of their own, with two by Landajo after he returned from the bin.
Landajo’s second, rounding off an 80-meter counterattack, was the crucial go-ahead score for the newcomers at 31-30. Sanchez showed his worth with a dropped goal, and the Jaguares held firm despite a late penalty from the Cheetahs to close the gap to a point.
Their ability to compose themselves and rally after a poor start, especially on the road, bodes well for the rest of the season.
“We played with heart,” captain Agustin Creevy said. “It was something incredible to play here and be in Super Rugby.”
After a troubled gestation, the Sunwolves had little more than two weeks to prepare for their opening match against last year’s eighth-place team.