Below-par Tahs mauled by hungry Jaguares

An opening quarter barrage from the Jaguares left the NSW Waratahs chasing their tails in Buenos Aires yesterday, and despite a couple of late tries putting some respectability to the 38-28 scoreline, ultimately the visitor’s were well beaten by a home side who put in arguably their best performance since arriving in Super Rugby back in 2016.

Individual errors cost the Tahs the early deficit – a botched kick-off, missed tackles, poor defensive alignment and a costly intercept all combining to leave them 26-0 down before they’d barely thrown a punch. It was 33-7 at half-time.

And despite a second half where they dug in to stem the tide before creating three more scores of their own to strip the Jaguares of a precious bonus point, it would be hard to make a case for anything other than defeat given the all-pervading error rate.

“We didn’t come here with a game plan like that and we let the game get away from us too quickly, and the Jaguares were able to get quick points and play some nice footy in that first half,” an honest Michael Hooper said afterwards. “We know what they can do with disrupted ball, we just weren’t urgent enough at the start of the game to hold onto our ball.”

Sixteen seconds was all it took for the Waratahs to think it might be a long day at the office as they faced a fired-up Jaguares team, smarting from a four match losing streak going back to last season, and intent on getting their home supporters onside with a victory. The kick-off went up and was tapped back by a leaping Alex Newsome, only for the Jaguares to react first and two passes later, winger Emiliano Boffelli was streaking away down the touchline to find the corner.

Emiliano Boffelli_Jaguares v Waratahs_2018

Emiliano Boffelli slides home for the opener after just 16 seconds

No doubt shaken by the early reversal, the Waratahs took a deep breath and put together a confident 14 phases from their first real possession. But the linespeed from the hosts kept them outside the 22 and eventually forced the error, and it was a pattern that continued for the opening 10 minutes.

The Tahs were happy to keep the ball, shift it from side-to-side and wait for a gap to appear, but every time their attack broke down, the hosts were onto it like men possessed. In contrast, the Jaguares’ ability to counter at lightning speed and find successive offloads while bending the line was causing big problems for the visitors, who were perhaps guilty of not throwing enough numbers into contact to slow their opponent’s down.

Flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez was rolling back the years for the home side with some of his passing and decision making, and it was another slick offload – helped somewhat by Jake Gordon coming out of the line but not getting his man and leaving space in behind – that allowed Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias to put Boffelli in for his second in the 11th minute.

The visitors thought they had hit back shortly after the restart. A jinking Kurtley Beale got his side on the front-foot and Israel Folau carried into the red zone to set the platform, but a charging Paddy Ryan got isolated from his support and was turned over a metre from the Jaguares line.

That profligacy was punished with immediate effect. A lineout penalty allowed Sanchez to find touch deep inside the Tahs half. And from their own put in, the ball came infield for the no.10 to feed centre Gonzalez Iglesias, who used a decoy runner and punished a spacing error from the NSW defence to put fullback Joaquin Tuculet through for number three.

Agustin Creevy_Jaguares vs Waratahs_2018

Pumas skipper Agustin Creevy was a force at the set-piece and from open play

It was four before the end of the first quarter. Chasing the game with a touch too much gusto, the Waratahs took a quick throw inside their own 22 but didn’t appear to be set up for it, and when Michael Wells juggled, slipped and set the ball back for an absent support, the Jaguares pounced, span it wide, and the ubiquitous Sanchez danced his way inside a couple of Cambridge Blue jerseys for a well-deserved score.

By this time you were looking at the record books, and they told you that this was the most points conceded by the Waratahs in a first quarter since the nadir of 2007, when they finished 13th in the old Super 14. And while the errant flow was stemmed for the next 10 minutes, they didn’t look like firing any shots back anytime soon, with a litany of dropped ball, forward passes, players overrunning in support, and sloppy breakdown work costing them a much-needed foothold in the game.

It was actually a mistake from the home side that eventually got the Tahs on the board, a gaping hole left at the ruck as eyes shifted wide for the next carry, and Jed Holloway showing good awareness and opportunism to scoop up and go straight through it and under the posts.

But just as they’d found something to cling to they gave it all away, the loosest of loose cut-out passes from Bernard Foley on halfway plucked from the air by Bautista Delguy and run in with glee. Hard-marker Foley was disgusted with himself, the Jose Amalfitano Stadium was rocking, and 33-7 down at the break, the Waratahs were in serious trouble.

You got the feeling they needed to score next if they harboured any thoughts of an unlikely comeback, and when they did put something tangible together in the 45th minute, it gave a frustrating glimpse as to what this team could be capable of if they can truly click as a unit.

Kurtley Beale, their brightest light in attack up to that point, took it to the line and put a lovely reverse pass in for Michael Hooper that instigated some dazzling interplay between Folau, Gordon and Curtis Rona, which ended with the former Western Force winger’s first try for his new state.

Israel Folau_Waratahs v Jaguares_2018

Israel Folau gets there first to strip the Jaguares of a bonus point

But instead of paving the way for a Waratah surge, they ended up spending most of the third quarter defending desperately near their own line, and coming up with crucial turnovers just to keep the 19pt margin on the scoreboard intact. They weren’t exactly helped by a flurry of penalties against them as they did try to break out and create something for themselves. There was a missed kick to touch, a scrum penalty followed by a short arm for an early shove, and then an accidental obstruction at the lineout when they were 10 metres from the Jaguares line. The air in the coaching box may well have turned blue.

The writing appeared to be well and truly on the wall – if it wasn’t already – when replacement Sebastian Cancelliere profited from another handling error with the Tahs in attack, and went the length of the field to slide home. But the replay paid due lip service to the efforts of the chasing Will Miller, not long off the bench, as his refusal to give up a lost cause and harangue Cancelliere as he grounded was rewarded with a knock-on and no try decision from the TMO.

The scrum, the Tahs’ achilles heel in the opening two rounds, began to creak once again in the closing stages, and the buoyant hosts didn’t need a second invitation to feast at the banquet. With just eight minutes left on the clock, and having turned down several 3pt opportunities in search of greater reward, they played on with another penalty advantage and this time, worked the space out wide for Matias Orlando to go over.

The twist in the tail, for the Jaguares at least, was the fact that the Waratahs stayed in the game until the final whistle for the third week in a row, and scored two late tries to strip their opponents of a bonus point they must have felt was already in the bag.

Nick Palmer bagged the first, the rangy lock slamming down a loose pill after good work from Harry Johnson-Holmes. And from the restart the Tahs reclaimed possession, Bryce Hegarty sliced the line open and put a searching long kick in behind, and the purring engine of Israel Folau got him to the ball first for his second Super Rugby five-pointer of the season.

The mitigating factors for the Waratahs may well be the physical toll of the Sydney-Durban-Buenos Aires round-the-world trek in the last fortnight, and the hangover from the effort required to earn that gutsy draw against the Sharks last week. And with their five remaining away trips this season at least within their own time zone, they should theoretically have been through the worst.

They should also take some crumbs of comfort from the way the Jaguares played – it was certainly a cut above anything they have put on display in recent memory, and the fact that they were again able to stay in the game for the 80 minutes and take something positive from the loss.

But they will know that another performance of such inaccuracy against the on-song Rebels next Sunday at Allianz Stadium will be costly, and could leave them very much behind the eight-ball in what’s proving to be a tightly-contested conference.

Jaguares 38 (Emiliano Boffelli 2, Joaquin Tuculet, Nicolas Sanchez, Bautista Delguy, Matias Orlando tries; Nicolas Sanchez 4 cons) defeated NSW Waratahs 28 (Jed Holloway, Curtis Rona, Nick Palmer, Israel Folau tries; Bernard Foley 4 cons) HT 33-7

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