By Allyn freeman

In early 1978, the USARFU received an invitation from the South Africa Rugby Board (SARB) to send a representative team to tour that summer. The USARFU Board of Governors voted to dispatch a “Barbarian” type of selected players but, notably, the side would not be referred to as “Eagles.” The team would be the US Cougars, and play against a South African fifteen called the Gazelles, and five regional sides. A seventh match arranged against Rhodesia.

            Game #           Date                Location                      Opponent                   

            I.                      August 6         Durban                                    Natal

            II.                    August 12       East London                S.A. Country Districts

            III.                   August 16       Cape Town                 Western Province

            IV.                   August 19       Pretoria                       Northern Transvaal

            V.                    August 23       Kimberly                     Griqualand West

            VI.                   August 26       Johannesburg              Gazelles 

            VII.                 August 28       Salisbury                    Rhodesia

            Rugby nations struggled with South Africa’s long-standing apartheid practices. As early as 1969, New Zealand opponents formed “Halt All Racial Tours” to discourage Kiwi trips. To play or not to play divided international rugby nations. The apartheid controversy generated global interest outside the rugby community. The consensus voiced was that South Africa’s racist program remained unacceptable to all other nations. The International Rugby Board (IRB) excluded the Springboks from the 1987 and 1991 Rugby World Cups.

            In 1981, the Springboks played two matches against the Eagles in the United States. These controversial contests were permitted by a US Supreme Court decision. (This event will be detailed in a future Free Jacks Report.)

Cougar Selection

            To afford a fair selection process, it was decided to judge players from the National Territorial Union Tournament in St. Louis in June 1978.  The tourney results recorded a three-way tie for the championship among the East, Midwest, and Pacific territories.

            After the completion of the event, the committee chose twenty-five players (from 20 clubs) for the Cougars, including thirteen previously capped: Lopez, Henderson, Wilson, Parthmore, Kelleher, Culpepper, Lombard, Selfridge, Andrews, Bordley, Wack, Duncanson, Jablonski. Newly selected were: Hollings, Lancaster, Fowler, Fedorenko, Cooke, Andrus, Gunn, Morrison, Fanucchi, Hodgins,Clark, Scheitlin. (Later, Smith and Ording replaced Bordely and Parthmore on the trip.)

             Ray Cornball would act as coach, a position he held in the Eagle’s 1976 France Test in Chicago.  Keith Seaber would serve as Tour Manager. The South African Rugby Board agreed to finance the tour.                    


            After the Cougars arrived from the long air flight, they managed four-days of practice, and a getting-to-know-you experience. In 1978, rugby union remained an amateur sport when the American players had to take time off from work or school to make the three-week trip. As in the past, the Pacific Territory dominated the side with 11 of 25 players.

Game One: Natal 16 – Cougars 10

            The first contest pitted the Cougars against a Natal Provincial Invitation XV at Kings Park in Durban. The home side featured former Springbok legend Tommy Bedford in his final rugby appearance. More than 5,500 spectators showed up for the match. The weather was overcast with a slight rain that produced a slick pitch.

            The game started well for the Cougars when scrum half Cooke kicked a drop goal for three points. Natal retaliated within minutes with a long, unconverted try. As the first half progressed, Natal controlled the scrummaging, the weakest aspect of American play. Only Cougar hard tackling on defense prevented further tries. Natal led 7-3 at the break.

            In the second half, the score see-sawed evenly at 7-7. Then, Natal notched a second try and converted while Cooke kicked a penalty to make it 13-10. The home team added one final penalty and claimed victory at 16-10.

            The South African press praised the Cougar’s tackling but criticized the ceding of too many inexcusable penalties, fifteen in total. One odd compliment, “They (Cougars) do not parade around the park questioning the referee’s decisions.”

Game Two: Country Districts 44 – Cougars 12

            The second match occurred against an all-star squad from the smaller South African unions, the match played at Borders RFU Ground, East London. A crowd of 6,500 filled the stands. The game turned sour from the whistle as Country backs ran through porous Cougar defenses to lead 24-3 at the half. In the second period, Country scored three tries in fourteen-minutes to increase the lead by forty points. The Cougars were able to narrow the gap with nine points, including, a long try by 19-year old Tommy Smith.

            The national media proved more critical in this second encounter, disparaging the Cougars as failing “:…in all phases of forward play.” The poor showing forecast future troubles for the visitors, especially, in the final contest against the Gazelles.

Final Note: Photo

Top Row: Selfridge, Fowler, Andrews, Federenko, Kelleher

Third Row: Cooke, Hodgins, Scheitlin, Wilson, Morrison, Ording, Hollings

Second Row: Jablonski, Lombard, Lancaster, Henderson, Gunn, Wack, Fannuchi, Clark

Seated: Smith, Lopez, Cornbill (Coach), Culpepper (Captain), Seaber (Manager), Gray, Andrus

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop