(Lisbon, Portugal) 7 April 1998 -- Two new caps, two players returning after a year's absence from test rugby, and four more with limited test experience make up the balance of the US National Team for tomorrow's international against Portugal at Lisbon's University Stadium.
Tour captain Tom Billups leads a side that's almost completely changed from Sunday's 50-7 win over the Portugal Development XV, US head coach Jack Clark announced today. Only lock Luke Gross remains, joined by 14 others playing in their first match of the 1998 international season.
St. Louis Bombers loosehead John McBride and Dallas Harlequins openside David Care earn their first caps against a Portuguese team coming off Saturday's 30-7 victory over Germany in an important Rugby World Cup qualifier. Meanwhile, lock Alec Parker and number eight Rob Lumkong again take the international stage after knee injuries forced both players out of all but the first game of the 1997 campaign.
Elsewhere in the forwards, Dave Hodges goes to blindside flanker for his fourth cap (having earned two of his first three at second row), while Billups, Gross, and tighthead Ray Lehner round out the Eagle pack.
Veterans Andre Bachelet, Matt Alexander, and Mark Scharrenberg take up at halfback, flyhalf, and inside center, respectively, but wider afield the test experience drops. Center Alatini Saulala and fullback Chris Morrow both debuted for the US just last season, appearing in a handful of games each. Dan Kennedy, another member of the class of 1997, moves to left wing from fullback for his second-ever international.
Right wing Vaea Anitoni is the country's all-time leading try scorer--totaling a phenomenal 17 in 23 tests--and one of seven holdover starters from the USA's most recent outing, against Wales in San Francisco last July. Among the missing are flanker and captain Dan Lyle and wing Brian Hightower.
The US has been together a little more than a week and played one match in the runup to the first of two tests on this early season tour of Portugal and Spain. Like the Eagles, both countries are hoping to qualify for next year's World Cup later this season. Coming on the heel's of Portugal's Saturday World Cup win, tomorrow's match is unlikely to be an easy run for the visitors.
"The team we're putting out on the field tomorrow has had seven days of quality training," coach Clark observed. "We're all anxious to find out where the test team will start the season.
"You can't help but think of some of the boys who are not here, but now it's time to go: Eagle jumpers, national anthems, and a test result."
United States: Chris Morrow; Vaea Anitoni, Alatini Saulala, Mark Scharrenberg, Dan Kennedy; Matt Alexander, Andre Bachelet; John McBride, Tom Billups (c), Ray Lehner, Alec Parker, Luke Gross, Dave Hodges, David Care, Rob Lumkong. Reserves: Todd Giuntini, Mas Morimoto, Tim Kluempers, Jason Walker; Kevin Dalzell, Tom Takau, Andre Blum.