BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa (AP) — Argentina's Jaguares made an eventful debut in Super Rugby on Friday, beating the Cheetahs 34-33 in South Africa after having two key players sent to the sin bin in the space of a few minutes and trailing 24-3.
Packed full of Argentina internationals, the Jaguares recovered from a messy and ill-disciplined start for a winning entrance in the southern hemisphere's top club rugby tournament.
The Cheetahs had four tries, including a penalty try, inside the first 25 minutes for their big lead.
The Jaguares lost Argentina flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez and international teammate and scrumhalf Martin Landajo to yellow cards, but responded with four tries of their own, with two by Landajo after he returned from the bin.
Landajo's second, rounding off an 80-meter counterattack in the 65th minute, was the crucial go-ahead score for the newcomers at 31-30. Sanchez showed his worth with a dropped goal and the Jaguares held firm despite a late penalty from the Cheetahs to close the gap to a point.
"We played with heart," Jaguares captain Agustin Creevy said. "It was something incredible to play here and be in Super Rugby."
The Jaguares lived up to pre-tournament talk that they may be the only one of the three new teams in Super Rugby this year to be competitive. Japan's Sunwolves make their debut on Saturday, when the Kings of South Africa also return to Super Rugby. There are fears that those two may struggle badly against the best in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
In Bloemfontein, the Cheetahs made the early running, with captain Francois Venter snatching an intercept try in the 11th and wing Sergeal Petersen putting the Jaguares under intense pressure with another intercept soon after.
Petersen was brought down just short, but Sanchez was yellow-carded for not releasing in the tackle. From the penalty, scrumhalf Landajo aimed a kick at Cheetahs hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld as he dived toward the tryline. The Cheetahs were awarded a penalty try and Landajo also went to the bin.
Down to 13, the Jaguares let in two more tries in two minutes from Van Jaarsveld and center William Small-Smith.
But even while struggling at scrum time, normally Argentinian teams' strength, the Jaguares were clinical when Landajo and Sanchez were back on the field.
Hooker and captain Creevy offloaded off the back of a lineout five meters out for Landajo to snipe over for the first try in the 30th. Creevy bundled over from a lineout in similar position five minutes later. Flanker Rodrigo Baez's score early in the second brought matters level at 24-24 before Landajo scored the try of the game.
Emiliano Boffelli retrieved a kick in his own 22-meter area. He passed to replacement Matias Orlando, who weaved downfield beating a string of Cheetahs players before flipping a pass behind his back to Landajo to break clear.
Sanchez landed his dropped goal from long range, displaying the accuracy that made him the leading point-scorer at last year's World Cup and helped Argentina surprise many to get to the semifinals.