(Berkeley, California) 26 April 1999 -- Test spots will be at stake when the 22 players today named to the US National Team's opening Epson Cup roster come into camp next month.
A little more than two weeks from now, the Eagles assemble for the first time in 1999. On the line: starting positions in May 15's match with Tonga and May 22's tie with Fiji.
Despite the selection of numerous veteran players, there's no established starter in many positions, the US coaching staff has previously told its player pool.
Three more players will be added shortly, US head coach Jack Clark said today.
One player welcomed back will be flanker and captain Dan Lyle, forced to sit out the 1998 international season after suffering a knee injury while playing with England's Bath club side. The 28-year-old subsequently lost his race to recover in time for the USA's qualification matches for Rugby World Cup.
Familiar faces in the forwards include hookers Tom Billups and Kirk Khasigian, props Ray Lehner and George Sucher, and locks Luke Gross, Dave Hodges, and Alec Parker. Billups, Lehner, Gross, and Hodges have spent time overseas this season.
Lyle, Rob Lumkong, Richard Tardits, and Jason Walker are named in the backrow.
Kevin Dalzell and Britt Howard are the scrumhalves, and Mark Williams and newcomer David Niu are the flyhalves, the latter playing his way into contention at December's Inter-Territorial Tournament. Juan Grobler, Alatini Saulala, and Mark Scharrenberg will be candidates in the centers, and Vaea Anitoni, Brian Hightower, Chris Morrow, and Kurt Shuman comprise the deep three.
Lock Philippe Farner, prop Bill LeClerc, and flanker Dougald Gillies are also under consideration, Clark said.
Farner, the captain of England's West Hartlepool, has been been trying to help his team stave off relegation and has yet to confirm his availability. LeClerc, out of the preseason squad based on injury unavailability for the ITT, has been in excellent form for club side Aspen but must be added to the pool. Gillies is still being evaluated.
"Obviously we'd like to get a good start against Tonga and Fiji," Clark said in announcing the roster. "The players charged with the responsibility will come from this roster of 25."
"Clearly there's going to be open competition at many spots, and there won't be a lot of consistency in our lineups in the early going as we look to solidify our Rugby World Cup team by August," he continued. "But the team's focus has to be gaining victories for America."
In a related matter, the National Team announced that selections for the Yankee development side slated to play a regional XV prior to the Tonga test will likely be made this week. "The selectors are anxious to see as many players as possible in the early going," Clark said.
United States: Forwards: Tom Billups, Luke Gross, Dave Hodges, Ray Lehner, Dan Lyle (captain), Rob Lumkong, Kirk Khasigian, Alec Parker, George Sucher, Richard Tardits, Jason Walker. Backs: Vaea Anitoni, Kevin Dalzell, Juan Grobler, Brian Hightower, Britt Howard, Chris Morrow, David Niu, Alatini Saulala, Mark Scharrenberg, Kurt Shuman, Mark Williams.
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