Preview: Blues v Jaguares

The Jaguares travel to New Zealand for the first time looking to keep their play-off hopes alive against the Blues at QBE Stadium.

Three straight losses have followed the Jaguares entertaining Round 1 win over the Cheetahs, as the Argentine franchise continue to find their way in the competition.

Without question the Jaguares have the talent at their disposal to be a force in Super Rugby, but adapting to the weekly grind of the competition is another matter.

Head coach Raul Pérez has one of the most entertaining squads in the competition, and it feels wrong to try and put a leash on the Jaguares' attacking style which leaves them currently ranked near the top for offloads (second) and defenders beaten (third).

In fact the Jaguares beat an average of 29.3 defenders per game so far this season, the most of any team and 9.3 more than the Blues (20).

The challenge for Pérez is balancing the Jaguares' ambition to go for the impossible pass with the pragmatism required to win matches.

Travelling to North Harbour on Saturday without the services of Agustín Creevy, Juan Martín Hernández, Juan Manuel Leguizamón and Joaquín Tuculet makes their task even harder too, but having been unlucky losers against the Chiefs and Stormers over the last fortnight perhaps it's time for their fortunes to change.

The Blues meanwhile feel in a much better place under Tana Umaga despite having only one win to show from their first four matches.

Coming off a bye in Round 5, the last time we saw the Blues in action was when they snatched a late 25-25 draw against the Reds in Brisbane.

Keeping parity in the set-piece was a clear issue in their Round 2 loss to the Crusaders and the Blues pack has to front up against the Jaguares, even without the rested Creevy.

All the optimism from their Round 1 triumph over the Highlanders is beginning to leak away a little, and a result in North Harbour would do wonders to give the Blues some confidence again, no one more so than fly-half Ihaia West.

Umaga continues to search for the right combination in his backline – only Tevita Li has started all the matches this season – and the sooner that settled into place the better.

Good news is that the Blues have won three and drawn one of their last five matches against teams from outside of New Zealand.

Players to watch: With Male Sau dropped and George Moala on the bench, Umaga has partnered Rene Ranger with new face Piers Francis in midfield. The English-born former Edinburgh centre gets the nod after his performances for Counties Manukau in the ITM Cup and should dovetail with West at first receiver given his experience as a fly-half. The Blues will also rely on openside Blake Gibson, who has made 59 tackles so far this season, the third most of any player, and missed just seven further attempts.

Creevy's absence for the Jaguares is definitely softened by a start for Julián Montoya, the highly-rated prospect who starred at the Rugby World Cup for Argentina when given a chance to impress. Still only 22, Montoya will look to replicate Creevy's ball-carrying and accuracy at the lineout, while he's also shown good ability at the breakdown. Turnovers are vital for the Jaguares to keep the tempo high and centre Matías Moroni excels in that area, having won nine turnovers for the Jaguares so far this season, the third most of any player in the competition and more than any New Zealand-based player.

Team news: Francis makes his Blues debut as up front James Parsons assumes the captaincy in the absence of the injured Jerome Kaino, with North Harbour prop Nick Mayhew given his first start. Joe Edwards starts in the place of Jerome Kaino on the side of the scrum with Akira Ioane to provide thrust off the bench. After starting in each of the first four games, prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi and midfielder Moala will come off the bench.

Pérez has made nine changes in total – five in the pack and four in the backs – with Ramiro Herrera returning from injury in a new front row which includes highly-rated hooker Julián Montoya and prop Roberto Tejerizo. Guido Petti starts in the second row while Rodrigo Baez comes in at openside flanker. Santiago González Iglesias is given the nod at fly-half, with Nicolas Sánchez dropping to the bench, while Manuel Montero and Ramiro Moyano make their Super Rugby debuts on the wing and at full-back respectively. Emiliano Boffelli takes the remaining spot on the wing

Form: Both sides have played four and won just one of their matches so far to date. The Blues stunned the Highlanders on the opening day before losing to the Crusaders, Hurricanes and drawing with the Reds, while the Jaguares defeated the Cheetahs before losing to the Sharks, Chiefs and Stormers. No side has conceded more yellow cards in the competition than the Jaguares with five, four coming in their first two matches.

Prediction: Very tough to call and had the Jaguares rolled out their best XV then they might have the edge. The Blues, fresh off a bye, look to have the advantage. Blues by four.

The teams:

Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Rieko Ioane, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Joe Edwards, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Nic Mayhew
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Hoani Matenga, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt McGahan, 23 George Moala

Jaguares: 15 Ramiro Moyano, 14 Emiliano Boffelli, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Santiago González Iglesias, 9 Martín Landajo (c), 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Rodrigo Baez, 6 Tomás Lezana, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Julián Montoya, 1 Roberto Tejerizo 
Replacements: 16 Facundo Bosch, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Juan Cruz Guillemaín, 20 Pablo Matera, 21 Gonzalo Bertramou, 22 Nicolas Sánchez, 23 Joaquin Paz

Date: Saturday, April 3
Venue: QBE Stadium, North Harbour
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Referees: Ben O'Keeffe, Angus Mabey
TMO: Ben Skeen