LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- South Africa defeated England to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup earlier this month.
Seventy thousand fans filled Yokohama’s International Stadium in Japan.
It was the United Kingdom’s most-watched broadcast of the year.
The Rugby World Cup didn’t get a lot of attention in the United States, but that’s changing.
An Arkansan was on the United States team.
His name is Ruben de Haas. He grew up in Hot Springs Village and went to Jessieville High School.
It’s a journey that’s really hard to believe.
“To be honest, it started in Little Rock, the Little Rock Rugby Club,” says de Haas. “They opened so many doors for me. So, if it wasn’t for the Little Rock Rugby Club, I wouldn’t be sitting where I am today.”
Where he is today is in South Africa, playing for his professional team, the Free State Cheetahs.
Fox16 Sports Director Wess Moore spoke with Ruben last week via Skype.
A month ago, he was in Japan representing the U.S. in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
“For me, it was a dream come true,” de Haas says. “It was an unbelievable experience. I got the start on my birthday, and having both my parents in the stands, so it was a dream come true. Words can’t describe it.”
Ruben and his family moved from George, South Africa, to Hot Springs Village when he was 10.
Ruben’s grandmother met a man from Mount Ida, and his dad decided to move the family to the U.S.
It was quite a transition for Ruben. He had to make new friends, speak a new language and play new sports.
“In South Africa, rugby is almost like the football in America,” de Haas explains. “Every kid growing up just wants to play rugby, so from a young age, I was playing rugby. Since six years old, I’ve been playing rugby.”
Ruben quickly adapted to America and took up football. He played for the Jessieville Lions and loved it.
“You get to throw on shoulder pads and a helmet and get to tackle people,” de Haas says. “I think for every rugby player when you get to throw on a pair of shoulder pads and a helmet, it’s almost a bonus.”
Football was fun, but Ruben missed rugby. He didn’t play rugby competitively for five years, but his dad, Peter, made sure that changed.
“My dad and one of his friends, Coach Dan Jones, decided to create a youth team,” de Haas recalls. “I tried to recruit all my friends from Jessieville and Coach Dan recruited kids from Little Rock, and they started a youth team. So at age 16, we had a youth rugby team and we just traveled everywhere and played youth teams across the country.”
That’s when his rugby career took off and eventually led to him representing the United States.
“Whenever I was told I made the team, I was shell-shocked,” de Haas recalls. “For me to be able to go to a World Cup at this age, it’s unbelievable, and I’m so privileged to be able to represent the United States.”
Ruben plans to keep playing rugby professionally and represent the U.S. at the 2023 World Rugby Cup in France.