Has any player done more to elevate rugby from a minor to a major sport in their own country than Hugo Porta in Argentina?
Major teams: Banco Nacion
Test span: 1971-90
Argentina caps: 58 (58 starts)
South America caps: 8 (8 starts)
Test points: 651 (12T, 90C, 114P, 28DG)
The fly-half’s first dozen caps in 1971-73 came against South American nations, an unofficial South Africa team, Romania and an Ireland XV, but over the next 12 years Porta’s talent persuaded the likes of Australia, France, New Zealand and England to play full Tests against the Pumas, initiating their climb to rugby’s top table.
Porta was 20 when he made his debut against Chile and 39 when he won his final cap – although he played once more in 1999 for Argentina XV against an IRB World XV!
A pinpoint accurate kicker, Porta is Argentina’s second highest Test point-scorer with 590, but he also had silky handling skills and loved creative, running play. He was a great leader too, captaining Argentina from 1977 to his first retirement in 1987, and then for three more Tests on comeback in 1990.
Porta became a national icon in a country obsessed by football, having turned down an approach by top soccer club Boca Juniors in his youth. His father was keen for him to be a footballer, but Porta adored rugby, saying: “Rugby teaches players about life and about themselves.”
He captained the South American Jaguars (a composite side, like the Lions) eight times in the early 1980s, while perhaps the finest of his many fine hours came in November 1985, when he kicked all 21 points in Argentina’s landmark draw against the All Blacks.
Porta’s achievements – which included 28 Test drop-goals, second only to Jonny Wilkinson – were recognised by the IRB in 2008 when he was one of the early inductees into their Hall of Fame. Before that, in 1985, readers of French sports paper Midi Olympique voted him the world’s best player and he was Argentine Sportsman of the Year that year – extraordinary, considering football’s status in his homeland.
A qualified architect, Porta’s career took a different turn after rugby and he became Argentina’s ambassador to South Africa in 1991, his nation’s sports minister from 1994-99 and joined the Argentine Rugby Union in 2006.