(Berkeley, California) 27 March 1998 -- Veteran hooker Tom Billups will captain the United States on its tour of Spain and Portugal, which begins next week.
The 33-year-old Billups, who holds the US record for international appearances by a hooker with 23 caps, currently plays professionally for London's Harlequins. It will be his first stint leading the national side.
"Tommy is the logical choice to skipper the tour in Dan Lyle's absence," said US head coach Jack Clark. "He works as hard as any player on the planet and carries the respect of every man on our team. Given the makeup of the tour party, he will need some help, but there are several veterans that can be counted on."
Billups, who debuted against Canada in 1993, said he was honored to captain the tour, and acknowledged the challenge ahead. "It is pretty clear that, with our injuries, every player is going to have to step it up a notch or two."
Team management noted that Billups may not play in every game on tour, and that individual match captains would be appointed as needed. The plan is in keeping with the team's objectives for a trip that comprises games in Lisbon against a Portuguese Developmental XV on April 5 and a test against Portugal on April 8, and a test against Spain on April 12 in El Puerto de Santa Maria (not far from the prominent southwestern city of Cadiz).
"Our original plan, which has been altered due to availability, was to pick enough of our experienced players to give stability to the team," remarked Clark, "and then to test two distinct groups of athletes.
"The first are those attempting to return to the international stage. Players like Parker, Lumkong, Tardits, and Takau missed all or most of the 1997 season due to injury," he continued. "Then there are the inexperienced players. We need to know where they are in their rugby development. To the point, can we count on them this year or not?"
The Iberian tour begins a long international season for the Eagles, who are looking to improve on their 8-12 record in their last 20 matches--the best-ever run by a US team. The team also aims to be better-prepared for the Pacific Rim Rugby Championship that begins in May, and then to peak for the World Cup qualifying tournament in Argentina this August.