BUENOS AIRES, June 30 (Reuters) - Argentina’s Jaguares still have one more imposing step to take on their fairytale run through the Super Rugby playoffs but they head to Christchurch for the final with at least one of their season goals completed.
The might of the nine-times champions Canterbury Crusaders stand in their path to a maiden title next Saturday but the 31,000 crowd that cheered them to victory in Friday’s quarter-final against the ACT Brumbies was a breakthrough in itself.
In a country where soccer still very much rules the roost, the passionate crowd packing the stands at Jose Amalfitani Stadium was a sight never previously witnessed in the four years of the team’s existence.
“I do not remember seeing a stadium like it was today since I was very young, and that gives me great joy because of the fact that people identify with the team,” said coach Gonzalo Quesada.
“The crowd was a big factor, not only because we could feel that support and feel that energy but because we had that goal from the start of the season, to get a big crowd. “The Jaguares never played in front of a really big crowd. Not a lot of people identified with this jersey and we are really proud to feel that now that goal is done.”
Describing the comprehensive 39-7 victory over the twice champions Brumbies as “spectacular”, Quesada said it had been the result of a lot of hard work and team unity.
“For us it’s a massive achievement to find ourselves preparing for a first ever final of Super Rugby for the Jaguares,” the rookie coach added.
“We take that with the same humility that we took every game that we had since this season started.
“We gave ourselves some big commitments and we stuck to them, both staff and players.
“We have a nice group of players with some talent but a high level of commitment to this jersey.”
Having beaten the twice champions Waikato Chiefs in the quarter-finals and the Brumbies in the semis, the Jaguares will head off for the toughest awayday in rugby on a seven-match winning streak.
Beating the Crusaders in New Zealand next Saturday would probably rank as the biggest upset in the history of Super Rugby and Quesada knows it is only going to happen with another week of unrelenting hard work.
“It’s an amazing feeling but we’re trying not to get distracted,” he said.
“The Chiefs was a tough test, Brumbies was one more step and the next one will be even harder.” (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford)