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Former Lion Loffie reaches more finals in USA

Cup Competitions
JOHANNESBURG – Remember Eugene ‘Loffie’ Eloff, the former Boland and Lions coach, but also the man who led the Junior Springboks to World Championship glory in 2003 and 2005?

Well, Eloff is on the verge of another major rugby success – but this time in the United States, where his Austin Huns team are up against New York Athletic Club in the Division 1 Men’s Club Championship final at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colorado today.

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Huns coach Eugene Eloff and club co-owner and former Eagles star Todd Clever. Photo: SuppliedLeft to right, Danie de Villiers, Pedrie Wannenburg, Lomani Tongotongo (captain), Hanco Germishuys, Eugene Eloff and Richard Osborn. Photo: Supplied

This comes just a year after Eloff left behind a directorship at a job in the Cape and stints coaching in the Boland and Border regions to help turn the Austin Huns into a team to be reckoned with. 

They had for years been known as a social club before the owners invested in coaching and bringing in new talent last year in an effort to turn professional. Eloff was their first major signing.

He says getting the American players to understand the nuances of rugby and getting them conditioned to play for a full 80 minutes were his biggest challenges.

“They’re big boys here, but because many of them come from a (American) football background, where everyone is covered in padding and everyone has an ego, and the game stops every few seconds, they just weren’t used to going for such long periods, with just a gum guard and maybe a scrum-cap,” explained Eloff.

“They all had bad habits because the passing skills are different and in football you make contact, whereas in rugby, you try and find space.

“Conditioning was thus key in the beginning, but I also had to work hard on up-skilling the players, getting them to understand the game, the technicalities, but then we also needed to create a culture at the club.

“The good thing though is these boys are like sponges... they take everything in and are very eager to learn.”

When Eloff arrived in Austin, he roped in former Bok Pedrie Wannenburg to help with the coaching, while Danie de Villiers, CJ de Wet and New Zealander James de Lacey are also on the coaching staff. Eloff says his move came about quite unexpectedly.

Left to right, Danie de Villiers, Pedrie Wannenburg, Lomani Tongotongo (captain), Hanco Germishuys, Eugene Eloff and Richard Osborn. Photo: Supplied

“I was in the Cape, I’d just finished my book and I got a call from Todd Clever (the former US Eagles captain and a man who played under Eloff at the Lions in Joburg).

“I’ve always enjoyed helping players learn about the game, so I went for an interview and that’s how I got involved. I got my management team together, we had a good pre-season, got the guys fit, and here we are, in the final, the first time for a team from Texas.”

The Huns are an amateur club, but are moving towards being semi-professional. Besides Clever, a few SA-born players wear the Huns jersey, among them Martin Knoetze, Hanco Germishuys, Kyle Breytenbach and Michael Reid.

Regarding the final, Eloff says: “I’ve been involved in many journeys with many different teams, but this is by far the biggest and quickest turnaround of a team I’ve ever seen. From guys who were pretty clueless to where they are today. Now they play with confidence and belief, and in a final, anything can happen.”

Win it, and perhaps Eloff will be the man the US Eagles turn towards to replace the outgoing John Mitchell as national team head coach. You never know.

Saturday Star

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