10-7-15 Eagles Hold Springboks to 14 – for a half

Thirty-five years ago I laced up my boots and entered Estadio Atahualpa, the Olympic stadium in Quito. Ecuador was playing Peru. In a couple of hours I will enter Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium with 2 friends who played with me in that distant memory. This sport of rugby has a power like no other. From creating friendships that span continents and decades to healing a nation (South Africa) or throwing a country into soul-searching despair (England).

Today South Africa played USA Coach Mike Tolkin’s b-side. Twelve of the Eagles who started were selected to start for their first World Cup match and five had no previous World Cup playing time. Although Tolkin has said the Eagles go into every match with the belief they can win, he must have believed the more winnable match would be Monday against Japan, a team that beat South Africa a little over two weeks ago. South Africa had already qualified for the quarterfinals as top team in Pool B, but were looking to work out final player combinations before the knock-out round. Nobody even considered an upset. The Eagles’ side, composed in good part of current or former national 7s players with a young, once capped, South African born scrum-half, could play with reckless abandon and delight. Three decades from now some of them will get together at a stadium to enjoy a rugby match and revel in stories of the day they played the Springboks in an Olympic stadium at the 2015 World Cup in London.

At half the mighty Springboks led by only 14 points. One of their tries coming from a penalty as French ref repeatedly penalized the US scrum. Several tryline stands deprived the Boks of more points, but in the first minute of the second half Bryan Habana scored the first of his 3 tries. The Boks poured through ending with 64 points to none, the largest point difference in the 2015 World Cup. The Eagles who faced this onslaught of Springbok try scoring will probably not want to remember the second half or that they were the first team in the 2015 World Cup to not score a try in a match. They will want to remember the 54,658 rugby fans who marveled at their first half courage and skill.

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