A native of South Africa, Phillip “Thabu” Eloff would blossom into one of the most notable ruggers to ever represent the United States. Eloff began his rugby career at age 9 in his native country. He attended Frikkie Meyer High School in Thabazimbi, South Africa, where he was an integral part of the school’s rugby team. In his senior year he received his provincial colors and represented Northern Transvaal at Craven Week. After a brief trip to play for Houston Area Rugby Club, Eloff joined the Chicago Lions Rugby Football Club and enrolled in college.
Eloff attended Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, Illinois from 1998 to 2003. During his collegiate years, he simultaneously played for the Lions and led the team to a Mid-America Cup in 1997, 1998 and 1999. The Lions competed in Super League from 1997 to 2006, earning a runner-up bid in the 2006 Super League Final. He was recognized as Lions MVP during the 1998, 1999 and 2002 seasons. He was named to representative sides including Atlantis and the Midwest Thunderbirds that won the NASC title in 2006. Eloff’s excellence at the collegiate, club, and representative levels would propel him to the ranks of USA Eagles.
“He is grounded, thoughtful and however talented a rugby player, would always put the team first. On the field he was a joy to coach and watch play. Off the field, he was a gentleman whose company I sought and enjoyed. Philip “Thabu” Eloff is an American Eagle, he stood for all the shirt meant and in his quiet way made all follow him,” said former coach, Brett Taylor.
Eloff represented the USA as an Eagle from 2000 to 2007. In 15s, he earned 35 total caps and played in 37 games. He was a member of numerous US Eagles touring sides around the world and earned the right to feature for the Eagles in three Rugby World Cups. In the 2003 World Cup in Australia, Thabu started all four games against Fiji, Scotland, Japan and France, finding the try zone against Japan, one of his 10 test tries. In the 2007 World Cup, he started two games against Samoa and South Africa and came off the bench against Tonga. In 2005, he appeared on the pitch for the Eagles 7s in 5 games, including 2005 7s Rugby World Cup matches against Ireland, Scotland, and Tonga.
“His work ethic was rivaled only by how great a teammate he was, always smiling no matter the situation. Truly one of the greats” said former teammate, Jeremy Nash.
Following Eloff’s playing career, he transitioned from player to coach and served as the backline coach of Davenport University for two seasons in 2011 and 2012. During his tenure, Davenport won back-to-back D1A National Championships. Thabu was recognized for his coaching success by becoming the backline coach for the 2014 Collegiate All Americans between 2012-2014. In his final coaching stint, he served as head coach of the Chicago Lions RFC in 2014 and 2015, going undefeated in the regular season and finishing as a national semifinalist.