SYDNEY (Reuters) - Los Jaguares might be a fading memory from the intercontinental Super Rugby competition buried by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Pablo Matera is delivering weekly reminders of the quality of Argentine rugby in the new Pacific-oriented version.
The former Pumas skipper played his best game in the red shirt of the Canterbury Crusaders last weekend as the world's most successful provincial side beat Australia's top team, the ACT Brumbies, in Canberra.
The 28-year-old loose forward was at his uncompromising best in a brutal performance that was a reminder of his heroics up the road in Sydney in 2020, when he captained the Pumas to their first victory over the All Blacks.
"What we are finding with Pablo is the tougher the contest, the better he goes," Crusaders forwards coach Jason Ryan told Stuff media.
"And I think he has really started to find his game, to find his rhythm on the field."
The Jaguares folded at the height of the pandemic in 2020, just a year after Matera had captained the Argentine side to their maiden Super Rugby final against the Crusaders.
He had already joined Stade Francais, however, and late last year moved on to Christchurch, where he initially found it difficult to adjust to the way the New Zealanders played.
"It's the rhythm," he said before the start of the season. "They try to play at the fastest tempo possible and going from one place to another and not wasting any time.
"That's the biggest change for me."
The Brumbies match was an eighth start in 10 games for Matera and his growing influence is great news for the Crusaders as they look to lock up home advantage in the playoffs.
It is possibly bad news for Fijian Drua, who provide their opposition in Christchurch on Friday, but will also be welcomed by new Pumas defence coach David Kidwell.
The New Zealander walked away from his job at rugby league's Parramatta Eels on Monday to join the staff of former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and help prepare Argentina for next year's World Cup in France.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)