USA National Rugby Team


Billups Leads US in World Cup Qualifying Opener

(Buenos Aires, Argentina) 14 August 1998 -- Hooker Tom Billups leads the United States against Argentina in the tomorrow's first round of the Americas zone World Cup qualifying tournament, hoping to reverse a 29-26 loss in the two teams' last meeting.

Billups, prop Ray Lehner, and center Mark Scharrenberg are the only players remaining from the USA's narrow 1996 Pan-American Championship defeat in Ontario, Canada, although several more of tomorrow's starters were part of that squad.

Aspen flanker Dougald Gillies gets his first cap at flanker, while center Ray Green earns his second after returning from a long layoff and fullback Kurt Shuman earns his second "run-on" start. The versatile 1997 Penn State grad has also appeared at flyhalf and center this season.

Favored to repeat as the Americas champion, the host Pumas have chosen much the same team that pounded Romania 68-22 last weekend, save for injured halfback Augutin Pinchot and a bright young prospect at fullback. Resting a few of its stars, Canada meets Uruguay in tomorrow's first game.

Three teams will qualify out of the four-team round-robin tournament, but seeding will be vitally important in next year's Rugby World Cup. Games tomorrow and next Saturday are set for the 20,000-seat Buenos Aires Cricket and Rugby Club, while Tuesday's contests will be played at Club Atletico San Isidro's (CASI) slightly smaller ground.

For the USA, 1998 debut international John McBride joins Billups and Lehner in the front row, while veterans Cliff Vogl and Luke Gross pair at lock. Squadmember Alec Parker, who is not yet with the team because of family illness, is expected to arrive in time to watch the game.

Flanker Jon Holtzman, number eight Jason Walker, and Gillies form the loose trio, who will bear the responsibility of tackling the much heavier Argentine forward pack.

Britt Howard and Mark Williams start at halfback and flyhalf, and Scharrenberg and Green form the midfield. Scharrenberg, the former Chico State and Golden Gate star now at Scotland's Jedforest, came into the squad late on Alatini Saulala's groin injury.

Wings Andre Blom and veteran 7s international Steve Hiatt, and Shuman make up the deep three.

United States: Kurt Shuman; Andre Blom, Ray Green, Mark Scharrenberg, Steve Hiatt; Mark Williams, Britt Howard; John McBride, Tom Billups (captain), Ray Lehner, Luke Gross, Cliff Vogl, Jon Holtzman, Dougald Gillies, Jason Walker. Reserves: George Sucher, Kirk Khasigian, Bill LeClerc, Dave Hodges; Kevin Dalzell, Juan Grobler, Vaea Anitoni.