(Burlington, Vermont) 2 June 1998 -- Injuries and the need to shore up the team's performance in a few positions have produced several changes to the US National Team's roster for the home leg of the Canterbury of New Zealand Pacific Rim Rugby Championship, head coach Jack Clark announced today.
Tied for third and four points off the pace, the US opens a three-week homestand this Saturday against Canada in Burlington, Vermont. Most of the team arrived here in New England late last night, some directly from USA Rugby's club championship this past weekend in San Diego. A few late additions get in today.
For the second time this year, the injury bug has hit the Eagles. Released to play for the Gentlemen of Aspen in their semifinal match against Hayward, fullback Chris Morrow sustained a concussion and is out indefinitely. Teammate Jason Walker also missed the final with a sprained ankle and is day-to-day, receiving treatment from the US medical staff.
Aspen wing Brian Hightower, sidelined with torn ligaments in his foot just before the USA's April tour to Portugal and Spain, had been scheduled to play in San Diego and picked for the US subject to passing a fitness test. But Hightower didn't appear for his club and had to be scratched from the National Team roster.
Meanwhile, prop John McBride has suffered a second degree MCL injury in last Saturday's 17-15 loss to Canada in Vancouver, and will be out for up to six weeks. Center Alatini Saulala is out with bruised ribs, while flanker Dan Lyle and center Ray Green continue to make ground in recovering from knee injuries that have kept them out the entire season.
Accordingly, six new players come into the team. In the front row, Washington prop George Sucher, Denver Barbarian prop Travis Kelsey, and Old Blue (New York) hooker Craig Levine join the US for the first time, the latter almost straight from two days of grueling rugby. Old Blue needed more than 30 minutes of overtime to down Life College in Saturday's semifinal.
Hookers Tom Billups and Sean Allen and props Chris Lippert, Ray Lehner, and Bart Furrow make up the rest of the front ranks. Furrow, the ex-Nebraska footballer who's caught on with the Denver Barbarians after visits to New Zealand and Scotland, was called up in Vancouver and gained his first cap after both Lippert and McBride were forced from the field.
Test veterans Luke Gross, Alec Parker, and Cliff Vogl form the second row, while Dave Hodges, Rob Lumkong, David Care, Fifita Mounga, and Shaun Paga team combine with Walker in the backrow. Old Blues (Berkeley) flanker Mounga and University of California number eight Paga are in the camp the first time, with collegiate finals MVP Paga offering extra cover for the Aspen captain.
Andre Bachelet and Kevin Dalzell are at halfback, Matt Alexander and Kurt Shuman at flyhalf, and Mark Scharrenberg and Tomasi Takau make up the centers. Owing to injury, the versatile Shuman has previously appeared in the midfield, while Shuman and Takau have also taken up on the wing from time to time.
Andre Blom,Vaea Anitoni, and Jason Raven carry on from the Pacific Rim road trip at the deep three. With Dan Kennedy still in finals at Life Chiropractic College and Chris Schlereth hobbled by a groin injury, 7s Eagle and 1997 Developmental XV member C.D. LaBounty gets the callup.
Returning from Asia and Canada with a 1-2 record and six points, the US lies in its best-ever position at the midway point. 2-1 Hong Kong has 10 points, while Canada has nine and Japan six. Hong Kong is finished with its home schedule, and Japan has just one home match left. A win is worth four points, with bonus points available for scoring tries and also narrow losses.
Now in its third year, the Pacific Rim has developed into a exciting and evenly matched competition, averaging 6.5 tries and 54 points per game, along with a low average margin of victory of eight points.
"We're far from satisfied with our position, but the team has completed the most difficult part of the competition while missing some pretty key players," coach Clark said after announcing the roster. "But teams are improving, and I sense that everyone has been able to improve their road performances, meaning we have plenty of work to do on our home leg."
After Saturday's match, the US moves to San Francisco for a June 13 contest with Japan and a June 20 fixture with Hong Kong. Tickets are still available for all three games, by calling 888/ 98RUGBY or ordering online at www.usa-eagles.org. Late orders for the Canadian game will be available at will call.
United States: Forwards: Sean Allen, Tom Billups (captain), David Care, Bart Furrow, Luke Gross, Dave Hodges, Travis Kelsey, Ray Lehner, Craig Levine, Chris Lippert, Rob Lumkong, Fifita Mounga, Shaun Paga, Alec Parker, George Sucher, Cliff Vogl, Jason Walker. Backs: Matt Alexander, Vaea Anitoni, Andre Blom, Kevin Dalzell, C.D. Labounty, Jason Raven, Mark Scharrenberg, Kurt Shuman, Tomasi Takau.