Hong Kong Punishes US Errors in 46-9 Win
(Hong Kong) 17 May 1997 -- Three first-half tries by Fijian wing Luke Nabaro paced Hong Kong to a 22-9 lead, en route to a 46-9 victory over the United States in a Pacific Rim Rugby Championship match today in the erstwhile British territory.

Pushing the tempo, the visitors mounted some good scoring chances in the second stanza, but gave up two intercept tries that put the game out of reach. Three penalty goals from flyhalf Matt Alexander accounted for the Eagles' tally.

Unlike last week's loss to Canada in Vancouver, the US won ample possession, but again had a tough time establishing forward momentum. The Eagles also failed to protect the ball: four of Hong Kong's tries stemmed from turnovers. With speedster Nabaro, former Australian 7s player Chris Gordon, Riaz Fredericks, and several other Southern hemisphere players new to the Dragons' lineup this year, the mistakes were far too much to overcome.

Sadly, the second half was also punctuated by a neck injury to hooker Tom Billups. Though stretchered from the field and admitted to a local hospital, Billups showed movement, and the US medical staff was optimistic no paralysis occurred. Playing in his 20th international, Billups is the USA's all-time appearance leader at his position.

"When one of your players leaves the field with his head taped to a board, it relegates Hong Kong's victory today to its proper status," US head coach Jack Clark commented, promising to relay updates.

US wing Chip Curtis (Life College) played solidly in his first start, while Penn State's Kurt Shuman earned his first cap subbing for fullback Chris Morrow. Meanwhile, prop Chris Lippert and lock Cliff Vogl were both replaced with back injuries, meaning the US roster is getting thin with one week left on the road segment of the teamıs Pacific Rim schedule.

It was not yet known who would be flown out to take Billups's roster spot at hooker. But with more than 10 players already declared unavailable for portions of the season--including second rowers Alec Parker and Matt Winters, backrowers Richard Tardits and Jason Walker, and backs Alatini Saulala, Brian Hightower, and Vaea Anitoni--depth becomes an issue as the US soldiers on through its last game with Wales on July 12. The US coaching staff has already burned through its short list of standouts from last December's trials camp in Las Vegas.

"The conditions were difficult, our personnel was stretched, and Hong Kong deserved the victory today," Clark said of today's match. Of the team's outlook, he added, "I told the boys this is no time for self-pity. 'Put our shoulders back, and let's get a victory in Osaka on Sunday'."

The loss drops the US record to 0-2, while vastly improved Hong Kong moves to 2-0. Canada (1-0) and Japan (0-1) meet tomorrow in Tokyo. The US next meets Japan on May 25 in Osaka, before returning home for a week's rest.