(Berkeley, California) 6 July 1998 -- Twenty-seven players have been named to the US National Team squad that departs for Fiji later this month, aiming to sharpen up before August's Rugby World Cup qualifiers in Argentina.
The goal is to recover momentum lost during the latter half of the Pacific Rim Rugby Championship season, US National Team General Manager Jack Clark said before announcing selections. The short tour comprises a game against the Fiji Warriors (test squad players living on the Pacific island) and a full international against the world's greatest 7s nation.
The US will also look to begin reintegrating players injured during the Pacific Rim while continuing to adjust to personnel changes made during June's losing streak. Several veterans were dropped and the team put on notice that it had to recover the underdog spirit that's underpinned the Eagles' strongest games of recent years.
St. Louis Bombers prop John McBride (knee) and Denver Barbarians midfielder Juan Grobler (broken arm) will try to rebound from May setbacks, while Aspen wing Brian Hightower (foot) and OMBAC center Ray Green (knee) hope to make their first appearances this season. As expected, flanker Dan Lyle (knee) is still not ready to go; hooker Tom Billups will continue as captain.
Rookie props Bart Furrow and George Sucher and veteran Chris Lippert join McBride, while uncapped Kirk Khasigian backs up Billups. Luke Gross, Alec Parker, and Cliff Vogl make up the second row. James Cassidy, Dave Hodges, Rob Lumkong, Fifita Mounga, Richard Tardits, and Jason Walker are the loosies, with Hodges able to cover in the second row.
Kevin Dalzell and Britt Howard will compete for the halfback spot, while Vaea Anitoni starts out as the US flyhalf. Alatini Saulala and Tomasi Takau join Green and Grobler in the centers, and the deep three consists of Andre Blom, Hightower, Dan Kennedy, Kurt Shuman, and Malakai Tabuvuya. Several of the latter group play both wing and fullback; Shuman also lines up at flyhalf for his club side.
In the coaching ranks, Michael de Jong comes back from a leave of absence to resume his backline duties, while Eddie O'Sullivan returns to the forwards.
In April, the US handily defeated Portugal and Spain, both in the last round of World Cup qualifying out of Europe, but Pacific finalists Fiji look to be much stronger. Last month Fiji downed Scotland 51-26; against France, the Fiji Warriors dropped a 36-32 decision, while the test side lost to the Five Nations champions 34-9.
"Obviously the competition will be strong, but the team is in good spirits," Clark said after naming the squad. "We're looking forward to the challenge of Fiji with one eye on our qualifiers next month."
United States: Forwards: Tom Billups (captain), James Cassidy, Bart Furrow, Luke Gross, Dave Hodges, Kirk Khasigian, Chris Lippert, Rob Lumkong, John McBride, Fifita Mounga, Alec Parker, George Sucher, Richard Tardits, Cliff Vogl, Jason Walker. Backs: Vaea Anitoni, Andre Blom, Kevin Dalzell, Ray Green, Juan Grobler, Brian Hightower, Britt Howard, Dan Kennedy, Alatini Saulala, Kurt Shuman, Malakai Tabuvuya, Tomasi Takau.