By Rex Gowar
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina’s Jaguares have strength in depth and will be able to cope without suspended flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez as they look to build on their fine start to this year's Super Rugby against the Cheetahs on Saturday, flanker Pablo Matera told Reuters.
Sanchez was given a one-week ban after being cited following the Jaguares’ 36-24 Super Rugby home win over the Lions last Saturday for a dangerous tackle on wing Anthony Volmink.
Jaguares coach Raul Perez has options in reserve and could replace Sanchez at flyhalf with veteran Juan Martin Hernandez, newcomer Joaquin Diaz Bonilla or Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias for the match against the South African side at Velez Sarsfield.
“Nico Sanchez is really important for us, he’s one of the leaders on the field and in the team so we’re going to miss him a lot but we have a lot of players this year that are playing at a great level so we’re going to be good,” former Leicester Tigers flanker Matera said after Tuesday’s practice in Buenos Aires.
The Jaguares have made an excellent start to this year's Super Rugby campaign with wins against the Kings and Lions either side of a narrow loss to the Stormers in Cape Town.
Matera believes a kinder fixture list than last season, when he says they covered more air miles than any other team, could work in their favour.
“We’re lucky this year with the fixtures; we don’t have to go to Japan, we have a few more games playing at home so we have better fixtures than last year,” said Matera.
“We still have to travel a lot but the tournament is like that and we want to be part of it so it’s more or less the same for every team.”
Super Rugby's governing body, SANZAAR, held talks in London last week and discussed the possibility of reducing the tournament from 18 teams to 16, with one team from Australia and South Africa facing the cut.
While the 23-year-old Matera said he was unaware of developments, he thinks that SANZAAR may look to remove teams who are not developing.
“Obviously this is the most competitive tournament in the world and I’m sure that if any team is not developing as well as SANZAAR wants I think then maybe they will have to leave the tournament,” he said.
“We’re ok at the moment,” he added with a laugh.
The Jaguares virtually double as the Argentina national side and the transition between the two teams proved difficult for players last season as the Pumas struggled to build on the promise they showed in reaching the semi-finals at the 2015 World Cup.
A relatively small pool of players were used to fulfil commitments in Super Rugby for the Jaguares as well as international test matches in June, the tough four-nation Rugby Championship and then a November tour of Japan and Europe.
Their exhaustion eventually showed.
“Last year it was a little bit complicated because we planned a very different strategy with Jaguares than with the Pumas,” Matera said.
“I think now as we are in our second year we hopefully will be a little more experienced about it and are going to make the change from one team to the other quicker and adapt faster.
“Obviously it’s different to playing with Jaguares than the Pumas, it’s a different pressure and a different type of rugby too...
“The defences (in Super Rugby) are so good that if you don’t play as fast as possible you don’t get to … have line breaks, that’s why you risk a bit more because you need faster balls to have more chances,” Matera said.
“When you play international rugby you’re still looking to be fast but still a little bit slower with more strategy and not risking so much.”
(Editing by Toby Davis)