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In 1978, an era when apartheid still ruled South Africa and the Springboks, the national team, were banned from international competition, an ersatz American team called the Cougars, embarked on a successful seven-game tour of South Africa and Rhodesia.

In three and a half weeks, the squad achieved one win against six losses (old scoring and old rules), but their enthusiasm and their strong tackling drew unstinted praise from opponents, and the South African press.

The team was coached by Ray Cornbill, assisted by Nelie Smith of the South African Rugby Board. Rugby Magazine sent editor-in-chief Ed Hagerty and international editor Tony Scott to cover the historic contests in detail.

The results and attendance follow:

  1. Natal 16 – Cougars 10: 5,500
  2. County Districts 44 – Cougars 12: 5,500
  3. Cumberland U. 16 – Cougars 7: 6,000
  4. North Transvaal 15 (U25) – Cougars 18: 8,500
  5. Griqualand 13 – Cougars 4: 4,800
  6. Gazelles (U-25) 20 – Cougars 16: 10,500 in Ellis Park
  7. Rhodesia 32 – Cougars 15: 15,000

The key match was against the U-25 Gazelles in Johannesburg, a showcase for the junior Boks to show off their abilities, at a level one notch below the national team. The South African media predicted a dire result for the Yanks playing their sixth game, and coming after a poor showing against Griqualand, the match before.

But the Cougars rose to the challenge, battering their opponents in rucks and mauls, and playing top level rugby. The Sunday Express wrote, “South Africa’s rugby prestige took a stunning knock at Ellis Park yesterday.”

The final assessment of the tour credited these American club players with significant improvement against the more experienced South African fifteens.



Thanx for memories but .. Third game was v Combined Southern Universities (mostly all Stellenbosch) Northern Transvaal was not <25 -- it was a very strong (almost all the Currie Cup senior team) Great tour, great squad.