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On January 31, 1976, eight-thousand spectators entered Glover Field in Anaheim, California, to watch the first test match between a USARFU national side and an international XV from Australia. The Wallabies were returning home via Canada from a successful 25-match tour of the UK and Ireland, winning 17 of those games.
Once the decision had been made to schedule the game, a beehive of activity (organized by Dick Moneymaker) started immediately. First task: to choose a representative side from 53 potential athletes who paid their own way into southern California for the trials. A scant five-days existed for selectors (Keith Seaber, Ray Cornbill, Coach Dennis Storer, and Dr. Tale Toohy) to winnow down the number to comprise a team. Twenty-one ruggers would be chosen for this first contest with sixteen coming from California, and only five from outside that state. (See team photo above.)
The Game: Australia 24 - USA 12
The consensus agreed that the USA played “competitively,” tackling hard and winning the majority of the lineouts. The opponents were superior in the scrum, the loose, and open field ball handling, not surprising from an experienced national side. Both teams played conservatively the first half, the score standing at 13-6 for the Wallabies, the Yanks’ points coming from two penalty kicks.
In the second half, more open play occurred, and the Aussies extended their lead to 20-12. In the final phase of the game, Wright, the Australian scrumhalf broke through for a long run, passing the ball to wing forward Pearse for the try. The third Wallaby conversion of the game was missed, and the match ended at 24-12.
The result pleased players and fans as the Americans competed with energy, compassion, and some noticeable skill. Twice, long passes, historically a native tactic, gained long yardage. The Yanks dominated the lineouts.
There would be many post match conversations perceiving how much better the national side would have performed with longer practice sessions and more coaching. Rugby clubs around the country brimmed with optimism that a newly formed America’s team would improve over time, and take its place among the leading rugby nations. But in that confident enjoyment of having not done badly at all (The Aussies beat Japan by 97 points earlier in the year before.), no one imagined the changes that professional rugby would inspire in the major rugby-playing countries after the third World Cup, distancing those nations in ability and outcome from the USA.
The Wallabies merit our thanks for this first memorable test match. They will return on September 5, 2015, to meet the Eagles in Soldier Field, Chicago. Tickets can be purchased for the game at the www.USARugby.org site.
Photo line up above:
Standing (left to right) - Keith Seaber, D. Murphy, T, Klein, B. Frauman, C. Sweeney, G Brackett, T. Selfridge, E, Swanson, Dennis Storer, Coach, Victor Hilarov, President USARFU
Middle Row: S. Aurbach, D. Schneewels, M, Ording, S. Niebauer, M. Waite, F. Khasigian, D. Stephenson, G. Grey
Bottom Row: D. Chapman, M. Swiderski, B. Boardley, P. Lopes, T. Scott, K. Oxman