Head coach Duncan Hall has named a side with five new caps for the Eagles' first match of the Epson Cup.
The front row of John McBride at loosehead, Kirk Khasigian at hooker and Ray Lehner at tighthead has international experience, but behind it are some new faces. Collegiate prodigy Matt Kane will pair with Philippe Farner at lock and, in the backrow, captain Dave Hodges at No. 8 will be flanked by two newcomers. Indiana's Don Younger will start on the blindside, and the University of California's Kort Schubert is to play open side flanker.
In the backs, returning scrumhalf Kevin Dalzell combines with newcomer Grant Wells at flyhalf. Similarly, the center pairing is one of the old and the new. Denver's Juan Grobler, well known for his World Cup try against Australia, will start at inside center with Chicago's Philip Eloff pulling on the USA jersey for the first time at outside center. At fullback is the relatively experienced Kurt Shuman, with Andre Blom on the right wing, and Malakai Delai on the left, both of whom have seen limited action for the USA.
"It is a good mix to have some new caps in the forwards and some in the backs with experience around them," said Hall on announcing the side. "And this is a tremendous opportunity for the young guys. Hopefully they can seize the moment and overcome the butterflies to play well."
Additionally, almost the entire Eagles bench is uncapped. Penn State's John McGeachy and Denver's Link Wilfley are the back-up halfbacks with sevens speedster Jovesa Naivalu the other reserve back. Newcomers John Burke and Tom Kelleher cover loose forward and lock respectively, while covering hooker is Golden Gate's Robbie Flynn.
The final bench spot has props Joe Clayton and Troy Bartley bracketed. Clayton, who made his debut for the USA in last year's Pacific Rim, is fighting flu symptoms and his fitness remains in doubt, although management is hopeful he will be ready for Saturday's match.
"Our approach to the game will be simple," said Hall, noting that the team's preparation time was limited. "The big things we've been working on are defense and ball retention. If we can do those two things well, we will be in the match at the end of the day."
The Eagles first assembly of the season was a two-day camp in California this past weekend, before flying to Osaka where they had three days to prepare for Saturday's (Friday night in the USA) match.
Japan lost their opening game of the Epson Cup Pacific Rim to Fiji last Saturday. Last year's match saw the Japanese overturn the Eagles, 47-31, in Honolulu, HI. The Cherry Blossoms went on to win the six-team competiton.
United States: Kurt Shuman; Andre Blom, Philip Eloff, Juan Grobler, Malakai
Delai; Grant Wells, Kevin Dalzell; John McBride, Kirk Khasigian, Ray
Lehner, Philippe Farner, Matt Kane, Don Younger, Dave Hodges (captain),
Reserves: John McGeachy, Link Wilfley, Jovesa Naivalu, John Burke, Tom Kelleher, Joe Clayton/Troy Bartley, Robbie Flynn.
© USA National Rugby Team
Scott Compton, Media Relations
Hudson Rugby Fieldhouse
Berkeley, California 94720 4426
phone 510.643.1971 / fax 510.643.2192