Rugby now a 'war of muscles'

2011-11-10 09:19
Hugo Porta (Getty Images)

London - Rugby is in danger of muscling out the flair and skills that have made it such a great game, according to Argentina's leading points scorer and former captain Hugo Porta.

"I think those that forget the past don't have a future," the 60-year-old said next to a boxing ring at a charity event in a dilapidated former school in south London.

"We can't stop the evolution of the game, but we should at least try to preserve the essence of rugby.

"Nowadays it's a war of muscles. What is this?," he said ruefully, an imaginary ball tucked under his arm as he imitated the barging tactics of the modern game.

"I saw more blood and injured players during the World Cup than ever before."

New Zealand won the seventh edition of rugby's biggest tournament last month, defeating France 8-7 in a dramatic and tense final to clinch the Webb Ellis Cup for the second time.

Porta played only in the inaugural World Cup in 1987 and was at his peak during a very different era for the game.

He led his nation to a famous victory over Australia in 1979 and a 21-21 draw against New Zealand in 1985 in which he kicked all his team's points.

In more recent times Argentina have also displayed enough skill to compete with the game's best nations, finishing third at the 2007 World Cup and regularly being ranked in the top eight.

On Tuesday officials unveiled the calendar for next year's inaugural Rugby Championship - successor to the Tri-Nations tournament between South Africa, New Zealand and Australia - with the Pumas set to make their long-awaited debut in a major annual competition.

"I think people are tired of seeing the same three teams. Argentina will bring some fresh air to the competition," said Porta.

"Let's wait and see what consequences the competition has for Argentina," he grinned, all too aware of the challenges that will face his countrymen when they take on traditionally the sport's three strongest nations.

Porta's passion for the game is such that he laments the hulking physical stature of the modern player.

"Rugby's turning into a sport where the physical aspect prevails over talent," he said.

"These days there's no room for talent. I lived another kind of rugby.

"In Argentina we have always had an affinity with the French, they produce players with flair like we have done.

"Nowadays, take (France centre) Aurelien Rougerie for example, put a black top on him then put him on the pitch and he would think he's an All Black."

Far from appearing frustrated at the direction the game is heading in, however, Porta believes now is the ideal time to address the rules as rugby seeks to move forward and increase the number of countries that play to a high level.

"A bit like in golf where they have people working on the rules and their preservation, it would be good if the IRB (International Rugby Board) considers a project where they use well-known players to help develop and preserve rugby," said Porta, a Laureus ambassador.

"It could be me, Sean Fitzpatrick from New Zealand, anyone. There are a lot of people who love rugby and would be ready to collaborate on this," he added.

"I'm not a specialist, so I think a discussion would be necessary. A debate between former players and connoisseurs of the game."


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