The American Cougars (also known as the USA Cougars or United States Cougars) is the only rugby union team from the United States ever to beat a reigning Currie Cup championship team in South Africa. A combined and invitational side from the United States, the Cougars toured South Africa and Zimbabwe in 1978. The team was coached by Ray Cornbill, coach of the Eagles during the 1970s and 1980s.[1] The squad comprised 25 players from 20 clubs, including 3 from Santa Monica Rugby Football Club, 2 each from Chicago Lions RFC, Washington DC RFC, and UCLA RFC.[2]


The Cougars played six games in South Africa: against Natal, Combined Universities, Griquas, Northern Transvaal, South African Gazelles and Rhodesia, and won once.

On 12 August 1978 they lost 12–44 to a racially mixed South African Country Districts XV side at East London. Some 5,500 spectators watched as future Springbok Errol Tobias contributed two tries to the Districts' total and aided in the scoring of two others. By half-time the Districts were ahead 24–3. Cougars' wing Tommy Smith, usually a fly-half, "registered a spectacular score" that was converted by fullback Dennis Jablonski. Jablonski added two penalty kicks to complete the visitors' score.[3][4]

Four days later the Cougars faced a combined Universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town side on 16 August 1978 at Cape Town.[5]

The highlight of the tour was the Cougars' 18–15 win on 19 August 1978 over Northern Transvaal, who had won the Currie Cup in 1977 and went on to retain their title in 1978.[6][7]

The tour closed with an international match on 28 August 1978, a 32–15 loss to a Rhodesia side that featured Ray Mordt.[2][8]

1978 touring squad to southern Africa

Colours: Red, White & Blue Hoops

Coach: Ray Cornbill

Manager: Keith Seaber

Player Position Club
Joe Sheitlin Fullback Minneapolis RFC [1]
Dennis Jablonski Fullback Santa Monica RFC[2]
Mike Hodgins Wing Atlanta Renegades RFC [3]
Vic Clark Wing Kansas City Blues RFC
Tommy Smith Wing Washington D.C. RFC
Dan Wack Centre Washington D.C. RFC
Boyd Morrison Centre Louisiana State Univ RFC
Mike Fanucchi Centre Old Gaels RFC - California
Ian Gunn Fly-half Old Puget Sound Beach RFC
Steve Gray Fly-half UCLA RFC [4]
Dick Cooke Scrum-half University of Iowa RFC [5]
Kirk Andrus Scrum-half Santa Rosa RFC
Gary Wilson Prop Chicago Lions RFC
Mickey Ording Prop Olympic Club Rugby, San Francisco [6]
Mike Lancaster Prop Northern Virginia RFC [7]
Bruce Henderson Prop Wichita RFC
Jessie Lopez Hooker Fort Wayne RFC [8]
Jeff Hollings Hooker Old Blues RFC
Jerry Kelleher Lock Santa Monica RFC
John Fowler Lock UCLA RFC
Nick Fedorenko Lock Chicago Lions RFC
Jeff Lombard Flanker Chuckanut Bay RFC
Clarence Culpepper (capt.) Flanker Roanoke RC [9]
Tom Selfridge 8th Man Schenectady Reds RFC
Brad Andrews 8th Man Santa Monica RFC


  1. ^ "Cornbill named USA assistant coach". ESPN Scrum. 2000-04-05. Retrieved 2011-12-21.
  2. ^ a b "Rhodesia vs the United States of America". Our Rhodesian Heritage. 1978. Retrieved 2011-12-21.
  3. ^ "South Africans Down Americans". The News and Courier. Associated Press. 1978-08-12. Retrieved 2011-12-21.
  4. ^ "Sports Shorts". The Robesonian. Associated Press. 1978-08-11. Retrieved 2011-12-19.
  5. ^ "Sports Catalogue May 2010". Select Books. 2010. Archived from the original (.DOC file) on 2012-02-09. Retrieved 2011-12-21.
  6. ^ "Dan Wack - Trustee". US Rugby Foundation. Archived from the original on 2012-04-24. Retrieved 2011-12-23.
  7. ^ "US Team Scores Upset". The Prescott Courier. 1978-08-18. pp. 15-A. Retrieved 2011-12-23.
  8. ^ "U.S rugby team bows to Rhodesians, 32-15". The Baltimore Sun. 1978-08-29. pp. C6. Retrieved 2011-12-23.