Elliot Smith/NZ Herald

Argentina’s greatest player is riding the emotional high of beating the All Blacks and hopes it’s the beginning of something bigger than rugby for his country.

Legendary first-five Hugo Porta watched the game from his home in San Fernando, in greater Buenos Aires, as Los Pumas claimed a famous 25-15 win in Parramatta. The World Rugby Hall of Famer scored all of his side’s points in the famous 21-21 draw against the All Blacks in 1985, until Saturday the closest they’d got to toppling the three-time world champions. Porta watched the game on replay without knowing the score, given the 3.10am local time kickoff.

The 69-year-old said it was an emotional day for him and he didn’t believe it was over until referee Angus Gardner blew the final whistle.

“I was very excited … I didn’t expect such a great performance, it was an amazing result, but as you know you cannot say [it’s over] ’til the last moment.”

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Captain Pablo Matera said post-match they wanted to show their under-siege country what was possible amid Covid-19 lockdowns and a grim death toll of more than 35,000, the 10th worst in the world. Porta says he’s in agreement with the man who is now leading his country, as he once did.

“I think it was a big, big message to Argentinians. The country isn’t going through a nice period, so this was an example of what we can do when we are all together and work towards something we want to achieve.”

Porta has reserved special praise for first five Nicolas Sanchez, who scored all of his side’s points in the win, as Porta did in the ’85 draw, in a bizarre piece of symmetry.

“Many people talk about how many points I scored, how many points Sanchez has scored. I think records are there to be broken, so I’m very happy for him having a great performance, especially after not having the chance to show all his potential during the Rugby World Cup.”

The test was the Pumas’ first since last year’s tournament, where they missed the knockout stages in a tough pool against England and France. Porta hopes the history-making win can be the catalyst for a bright future for Argentinian rugby.

“Here in Argentina, we must start talking more about the game and what the game is teaching us and not so much about money and contracts.

“Our players are very special, most of them were born into the clubs in Argentina which is where the blood of Argentinian rugby is. By improving the local competition we will improve our rugby.”

In this year of all years, it’s the ultimate tonic for Porta, ending a 35-year wait to topple the men in black he got so close to beating.

“It’s not only the Covid, but it’s the economy. To survive in Argentina, whenever you are tackled by reality, it’s like on the field — you have to get up and keep on looking forward.”

This article first appeared on nzherald.co.nz and is republished with permission.

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