WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The ACT Brumbies barely had time to enjoy a post-match celebration let alone grab a few hours sleep before beginning the long trip to Buenos Aires on Sunday for their Super Rugby semi-final against the Jaguares.
The two-times champions left Canberra by bus in the early hours of Sunday bound for Sydney to catch their flight to the Argentine capital for Friday’s game.
Despite the arduous journey, the Brumbies will arrive in Buenos Aires in confident mood having won their seventh successive game, 38-13 over South Africa’s Sharks, to reach the last four.
On a sour note, they will be without Wallabies loose forward Pete Samu, who scored two tries before limping off just after halftime with a tight hamstring.
Coach Dan McKellar has opted not to risk him due to the long trek and quick turnaround.
“You just feel for Pete, he has been playing really well and he has played such a big role in getting us here to where we are,” McKellar said.
“I know we’ve got a little bit of depth in the back row and someone will step up to do a job.”
The Jaguares, effectively the Argentina team in different shirts, reached the semi-final after a superb defensive effort late on helped them to a 21-16 victory win over Waikato Chiefs.
It was fitting reward for a side who have followed a patient and planned programme and shown continual improvement since entering the competition in 2016.
They won four games in their debut season, seven in 2017 and nine last year when they made their first playoffs appearance.
Topping the South African conference this year with 11 victories, the Jaguares excelled with an efficient, aggressive pack providing plenty of ball to a backline guided by flyhalf Joaquin Diaz Bonilla and sparked by a mix and match electric back three.
Coach Gonzalo Quesada said building close bonds over the last four years had been beneficial in the run to this year’s semi-finals, with their experience crucial in getting them out of tight situations.
“If we look back on the construction period of the team, we talked about the character that the team needed,” he said.
“But we need to continue working on the ability to manage match (situations), which in the last month (we have been) improving day by day.”
The table-topping Canterbury Crusaders, champions the last two years, will host the fourth-seeded Wellington Hurricanes in Christchurch in the other semi-final on Saturday.
Scott Robertson’s side are heavy favourites to advance to the final, which they would also host, after they dispatched the Otago Highlanders 38-14 on Friday. They have comfortably beaten the Hurricanes twice already this season.
The Hurricanes only lost one other game, to the Jaguares, and ended with more wins (12) than the Crusaders, who won 11 times but lost only twice.
John Plumtree’s Hurricanes have not been as convincing in their victories, having won eight games by 10 points or fewer before Saturday’s 35-28 win over South Africa’s Bulls.
The coach, however, said that highlighted the mental toughness they would need to beat the Crusaders.
“(Close results) have defined our year,” Plumtree said. “We’ve come from behind. We’ve won one-point games. We’ve been behind quite a few times. But the side has really shone.
“The challenge is massive, but it’s something that we can really embrace and look forward to. The pressure will be on them and we can just go down there and have a real crack.
“I’m happy with where the team is at.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford