With the start of the new Super Rugby season edging closer, excitement is building in Argentina as new franchise, the Jaguares, prepare to make their first appearance in the competition. The Buenos Aires-based franchise are already well into their preseason programme before joining one of world rugby's most competitive domestic leagues.
After years spent overcoming the odds to produce a competitive national side despite the absence of a top-level domestic structure, many of Argentina's best players will now get to pit their wits against the world's best on a regular basis following their introduction into Super Rugby this year.
Captained by Puma skipper Agustin Creevy, a total of 21 members of Argentina's 2015 Rugby World Cup squad are involved in the Jaguares roster that will kick off their first Super Rugby campaign against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Among that group are established international players Juan Martin Hernandez, Martin Landajo, Leonardo Senatore and Santiago Cordero, as well as Creevy - in what will be the first Argentinean professional rugby union club.
Following the Pumas’ impressive fourth-place finish at last year's World Cup, it's perhaps no surprise to see the new boys being tipped by many who bet on rugby to be possible contenders in their first season in the league. When this article was produced, they were priced at around 14/1 to go all the way in 2016. Following the Argentine Rugby Union's decision to impose a rule that means players have to be playing Super Rugby to be eligible for the national team, those remaining few players in Europe have been forced to ask themselves the question about returning home.
For a process that started almost a decade ago, the Jaguares have ensured they are ready to compete from the very start of life in Super Rugby. With 30 players contracted to the franchise for the upcoming season, it's going to be a fascinating addition to the league to see just how well the South Americans adapt. Following their opening game against the Cheetahs, the Jaguares will continue their brief tour of South Africa with a tough game against the Sharks before hosting the Chiefs at the iconic Velez Sarsfield Stadium and then the Stormers the following week.
After a three game-stay in New Zealand, the Jaguares will head to Japan to meet the other new franchise, the Sunwolves, before returning home to face the Kings in Buenos Aires. By this point of the season, we should be able to get a decent idea of whether or not the Argentines are going to be able to be competitive against the best clubs from the southern hemisphere. When looking at the Pumas' recent performances at major events, as well as the host of proven top players in the squad, it's certainly not hard to see how the Jaguares could be potential dark horses in 2016.