Rebuilding a game played 38 years ago can be a difficult task. In the pre-Internet era, and 1983 definitely was, there was no overabundance of either communication or written or audiovisual records.
And sometimes the little that is still available, plus the memory resource, may not be sufficient or consistent. As happens when reviewing the victory of Los Pumas 22-12 over Queensland Country, in a game played on August 3, 1983 in Townsville, as part of the tour of the Argentine national team through Australia.
It was a historic tour for several reasons. In principle, because Los Pumas achieved what was, for a long time, their most relevant victory outside the country, an 18-3 in the first test against Australia.
Also because it gave world fame to the Argentine scrum, that with the “Bajadita” technique patented by Catamarca Ocampo made the Wallabies suffer, a lot, who quickly learned the lesson and ended up taking an Argentine pillar, Enrique “Topo” Rodríguez, into their ranks.
And because he finished putting Hugo Porta on the podium of the best starts in the world, who had already had a consecrating performance with South America XV against the Springboks in 1982.
TOWNSVILLE REMEMBER: FUROR AROUND THE GAME
With the excuse of the return of Los Pumas to the city for the Rugby Championship (the entire Rugby Championship is available on Star +), We spoke with a local rugby contact, the one in Townsville, to find out more about how the 1983 game had been and, above all, how it had been lived there.
Our contact name is Paul Radford and it is the main reason why this note exists, which is understood from his triple role: he is a lawyer by profession, he lives rugby with passion and, perhaps without knowing it, he has a natural talent as a journalistic producer.
With a balanced mix of investigative skills and tireless dedication, he collected documents and materials and provided us with testimonials that helped reconstruct history and resolve some of the contradictions mentioned above. Although at the same time, the collective memory exercise also made it clear that the passage of time and the subjectivity of memories enhance and magnify some details over others.
Among all the voices that gave themselves completely to reassemble the history that unites a team with a city, it is not possible to start with any other than that of Col Harkness, at that time president of the Organizing Committee of the TDRU (Townsville and Districts Rugby Union) event.
Col says that Townsville lived those days “in a state of excitement” and that the Hugh Street stadium, which is still standing, “was packed, there must have been about six thousand people.”. And remember that in the local team, which spans the entire state except Brisbane City, there were at least three local players: Terry Shiels as mainstay, Jeff Dillon at center and Murray Smee at fullback.
In fact, Jeff Dillon has a similar memory: “Many people went to the airport to receive Los Pumas, Argentine music was heard in the streets and it was about learning about the visitors, since very little was known about them and their country; for example, the gauchos were compared to the ranchers of the region. “
Paul adds that, at that time, the tours were very different and helped the growth of the local rugby and the young talent matured little by little.
“Not only Los Pumas, but also the All Blacks and the British Lions, among others, passed through the region, opened their practices and left their teachings,” he says with nostalgia. “Even the youngest players had the chance to play the midweek games and get fired up little by little.”
Col Harkness tells an anecdote that summarizes the camaraderie that was generated and the learning that was obtained, from a shared dinner and a talk about the Argentine scrum.
“The night before the game in Townsville, the then UAR president (Hugo Tozzi) and the Los Pumas coach (Rodolfo O’Reilly) came to eat at my house,” he says. “It was late enough when we convinced them to show us how Bajadita worked … and we ended up setting up scrums in the kitchen!”
THE ARGENTINE SCRUM, AN UNBEATABLE MEMORY
Is that the Bajadita was an obligatory topic of conversation after it was the key weapon for Los Pumas to prevail in the first test in Brisbane. Col recalls the impact of the technique: “We have never seen such a low position or such an effective coordinated push.”
From the TDRU Referees Association, Paul Martínez, whose father was born in Argentina, more precisely in Trelew, makes his contribution.
“Without a doubt, the one from Los Pumas was the best scrum in the world at that time,” he recalls. “They were the first to score a penalty try from the scrum when the Wallabies collapsed in reverse gear.”
Four days later, Queensland Country was already on alert, and memories agree that the local pack did a very good job neutralizing the Bajadita. But for Jeff Dillon, that didn’t stop the Argentine forwards from imposing their conditions.
“Our pack stood up with courage, but it was much smaller,” he says. “And that difference was felt as the minutes passed.”
HUGO PORTA, A LIVING MYTH
If the scrum did not make that much difference, if the local team scored three tries against only one from the Argentine side, then the question becomes obliged: where was the difference that ended up tilting the match for the Los Pumas side?
There is a first attempt at explanation that appears on the front page of The Townsville Daily Bulletin, outlined by the editor and supported by a phrase from the Queensland Country coach, Andy Purcell: the five failed attempts at the sticks frustrated what would have been a hit. .
But that motive quickly falls apart to make way for a reason everyone agrees on: Hugo Porta’s magical right loot.
Of the 22 Argentine points, 18 came through their kicks, with five penalties and one drop. The try, although some also award it to him, seems to have been the work of whoever played as scrum half that night, Marcelo Larrubia, who died in 2019.
But of course, a performance as dominant as Porta seems to have been admits of some deviations from memory. Like awarding him a try that he did not make, or remembering that all his points came in the last 20 minutes, and even mentioning that he came from the bench in that final quarter to change the course of a game that seemed lost.
In principle, if we believe the written record, Argentina started losing 8-0, but soon recovered to go to the break 13-8 up, an advantage that later stretched to 19-8, was reduced to 19-12 and closed with the last 10 penalty at 22-12.
With that progression, Hugo Porta would not have entered as a savior, but was the starter and captain that night, as the same newspaper announced in the previous one.
It may raise doubts that, having played in on that Wednesday, he would have played three full games in a week, something impossible in rugby today, but common almost four decades ago. It is proven by the fact that he would not have been the only one: next to him, Marcelo Loffreda, Gustavo Milano, Eliseo Branca and “Topo” Rodríguez repeated.
The five played the first test on Saturday, then the duel with Queensland Country on Wednesday and the second test the following Saturday, in which Australia took revenge by winning 29-13.
But as we said before, the memory is distorted and enlarged when a player monopolizes the center of the scene.
Jeff Dillon, for example, still has recorded the drop that Porta nailed in the second half. And with the vision of a referee, Paul Martínez remembers a very particular story.
“One of QC’s wings had the mission of keeping Porta content, with tackles that always arrived a little out of time, a little high and a little in the air,” he says with a certain irony, recalling some somewhat lax rules of the time. .
“Already in the second half, long after a kick, this wing was again late to contact,” he continues. “Porta, already fed up, chased him around the field, until his rival hid in a maul. On the 10th he approached his forwards, said a few words, and until the game ended, this wing did not turn to him. zoom in”.
Paul apologizes and says that since he was a teenager he has blurred memories, but what counts is a perfect synthesis: “We were winning until Hugo started putting her in from all sides.”
Col Harkness also sums it all up in one sentence: “If Porta wasn’t as well known before the game, he certainly was afterward and became THE talking point across town.”
Greg Thorne, another lawyer with a rugby past, who missed the game due to injury, shares a similar memory: “I was on Hugh Street that day and I saw something impossible to forget: Hugo Porta took over the show, kicking from afar and from all angles.”
Jeff Dillon felt privileged that day: “As was traditional, we exchanged shirts after the game, and I was lucky to receive number 10 from Porta, with whom we later shared a great third half.”
38 years have passed, but the memories are intact. Loaded with subjectivity, but with the force of experiences that leave their mark on both individuals and groups.
As will surely happen this Saturday at North Queensland Stadium, when Townsville relives a historic day, one of those that remain etched in the collective memory.
* In addition to the invaluable help of Paul Radford, a special thanks to others who made this story possible: Eduardo Morán, Sonia Morán, the “Townsvillians” who shared their memories and different people who provided illustrative and archival material.