With only seven members of the World Cup squad returning for the Eagles, head coach Duncan Hall has drafted members of the national sevens squad and collegiate players to round out his roster.
"We've at least 10 experienced players sidelined, so we are taking some youngsters to Osaka," said Hall. "It is a big challenge for them to face professional rugby players, but it is an investment in the future of the squad."
The fresh faces include Chicago's Philip Eloff at center, sevens players Jovesa Naivalu at wing and Don Younger at flanker, Penn State scrumhalf John McGeachy and Cal flanker Kort Schubert.
In the forwards, other new selections include Old Blues prop Troy Bartley who joins more familiar names such as Joe Clayton, Ray Lehner and John McBride. At hooker, RWC returnee Kirk Khasigian gets competition from Golden Gate's Robbie Flynn. In the second row, Philippe Farner has recovered from the back injury that derailed his World Cup aspirations in 1999. He is joined by Boston's Tom Kelleher. In the back row, Chicago's John Burke has claimed a spot on the squad thanks to a strong showing at the December All-Star championship and through the club season.
Veteran flanker Dave Hodges will captain the side through the summer campaign and will likely move into the No. 8 slot. The Welsh-based professional, who has amassed 23 caps for the Eagles, will lead the team for the first time in the Epson Cup.
Scrumhalf Kevin Dalzell and flyhalf David Niu both return for the Eagles with Grant Wells of Golden Gate also selected at flyhalf. Denver's captain Juan Grobler returns at center with teammate Andre Blom on the wing. San Diego's Malakai Delai rejoins the team at wing and Kurt Shuman holds down the fullback slot.
"I've crossed the country looking at club rugby in the last few months, and selectors were at every playoff venue this last weekend," noted Hall. "This is the best group of eligible players available. I'm certain of that."
Available is the key word for Hall. Heading the injury list is Dan Lyle who will likely miss the entire Epson Cup this year. Instead of playing in the season-opener May 27th, Lyle may undergo surgery on a recurring abductor strain. With rehab expected to take two months, the Eagles are unlikely to have the impact backrower available at all for the Epson Cup Pacific Rim Championship.
Joining Lyle on the injury list is flanker Shaun Paga, lock Eric Reed, halfbacks Nelo Lui and Mose Timoteo, wing Brian Hightower, as well as centers Alatini Saulala and Mark Scharrenberg. The list of players who are unavailable is equally long. Lock Luke Gross who is based in Italy and domestically based players such as Olo Fifita--who had an outstanding Sweet 16 performance--Alec Parker, David Care, and Derek Brown cannot be available for international rugby. Meanwhile, capped wing Chip Curtis was not released from Life College and is denied an opportunity to play for his country.
"Depth has long been a problem for the Eagles," said Hall. "But right now, we are dangerously thin. Hopefully, the situation will ease in the next couple of weeks with guys coming off the injury list." With a squad of 24 planned for the Japan trip, Hall will name two more players later this week.
In related news, the Eagles camp today confirmed that preparations for the June 10th USA-Ireland international were firmly on track.
Team officials dismissed a report in Ireland's Sunday Independent newspaper that Singer Family Park, the venue for the Ireland match and the USA-Canada Epson Cup clash on June 3rd, was unsuitable for international rugby.
"The rumors can only be described as bizarre," said the National Team's events manager, Scott Compton. "We have a purpose-built rugby/soccer facility at our sole disposal. It has a good playing surface and promises a great atmosphere next month."
Compton's comments came in response to unsubstantiated claims in the Independent that\ Singer Family Park was double booked and its pitch too narrow. In fact, he said, the USA rugby team reserved the Manchester, New Hampshire, facililty more than six months ago precisely because of its ability to hold a rugby pitch of international dimensions and draw a crowd from near-by Boston.
United States: Forwards: Troy Bartley, John Burke, Joe Clayton, Philippe Farner, Robbie Flynn, Dave Hodges (captain), Tom Kelleher, Kirk Khasigian, Ray Lehner, John McBride, Kort Schubert, Don Younger.
Backs: Andre Blom, Kevin Dalzell, Malakai Delai, Phillip Eloff, Juan Grobler, John McGeachy, Jovesa Naivalu, David Niu, Kurt Shuman, Grant Wells
© USA National Rugby Team
Scott Compton, Media Relations
Hudson Rugby Fieldhouse
Berkeley, California 94720 4426
phone 510.643.1971 / fax 510.643.2192