Matera boost as Jaguares debut in Super Rugby finals
Jaguares skipper Pablo Matera has been cleared to play in the Argentina team's first ever Super Rugby finals match this weekend, while hulking NSW Waratahs wing Taqele Naiyaravoro is eyeing a tryscoring record.
Matera was in danger of missing out as the southern hemisphere competition enters its knockout phase after being cited for a shoulder charge during last week's loss to the Coastal Sharks.
But the SANZAAR judiciary granted the flanker a reprieve when it found his actions amounted to foul play but did not warrant a suspension.
A relieved Matera will now lead his team against Golden Lions in Johannesburg, their first quarter-final since joining the competition in 2016.
In the other match-ups, defending champions Canterbury Crusaders play Coastal Sharks, NSW Waratahs face Otago Highlanders and Wellington Hurricanes host Waikato Chiefs.
While the Argentines have enjoyed a breakthrough season under coach Mario Ledesma, their record in Africa is poor, with 11 losses in 12 matches, including three to the Lions.
They also face an opponent determined to shake off indifferent form and regain the edge that took them to the competition final last year.
"I think we can be more ruthless -- we still have an extra gear in there somewhere," Lions captain Warren Whitely said.
"This is the business end of the competition and we have to make it count. It's a mental game from here."
Waratahs wrecking ball Naiyaravoro heads to Northampton next season and can leave on a high by breaking the Super Rugby tryscoring record.
He is equal with Joe Roff, Rico Gear and Ngani Laumape on 15 tries in one season and admitted crossing for a record 16th in Sydney this weekend was on his mind.
"It's the biggest achievement I've ever come across personally, just one try away from being the top tryscorer in a season, in the history of the game," he said.
"It's beyond what I've dreamt, beyond what I could think of doing this year."
NSW have won four of their last five finals games at home, with their only defeat coming in 2015 against the Highlanders, who have won eight of their last 10 games in Australia, including two finals.
- 'Mystery' team -
The Crusaders are hot favourites to win a record-extending ninth title this year after comfortably ending the regular season 12 points clear at the top of the table.
The star-studded outfit are on a 12-match winning streak and have won 17 of their last 21 games against the Sharks, who finished eighth on the ladder.
No South African team has ever won a finals match in New Zealand in 12 attempts, although centre Jack Goodhue said the Crusaders were wary of an opponent they have not met for more than two years due to a scheduling quirk.
"When you consider we play the Highlanders about five times a year, we get to know them pretty well but the Sharks are a bit of a mystery," he said.
"We'll just talk to the coaches... to prepare well. But they are in the same boat as us, we're unfamiliar to them."
There's no mystery between the Hurricanes and Chiefs, whose most recent meeting was only last week, when the Chiefs won 28-14 in Hamilton.
The venue this week changes to Wellington, where the Hurricanes have not lost all season.
But their confidence has been dented by a late-season form slump that saw them win only one of their last five matches.
The Chiefs have their own problems, with coach Colin Cooper criticising a lack of focus that was allowing opponents back into games.
"Sometimes playing big exit plays, and just kicking the ball, these guys get a little bit bored playing like that," he said after the Chiefs conceded 65 second-half points in the last three games.
© 2018 AFP