(Buenos Aires, Argentina) 21 August 1998 -- As the saying goes, sometimes it's not so important who's there at the start as who's there at the finish.
After five months and eleven tests, the US concludes its busiest season ever with the World Cup on the line, trying to become the first Eagle team to qualify for the world's championship through match play. Uruguay aims to spoil the dream in tomorrow's contest at the Buenos Aires Cricket & Rugby Ground.
Hooker Tom Billups skippers the US National Team in the year's biggest contest. At his side are the best of 1998's Eagles, a group that's fought through through some bad patches and disruptions caused by an injury crunch which has carried right through the World Cup qualifying tournament.
Billups, lock Luke Gross, and number eight Rob Lumkong have played in every game and proven consistent performers this season, but most of the USA's Uruguay starters were sidelined at some point during the Pacific Rim season or last month's tour to Fiji. Meanwhile, starting props George Sucher and John McBride, lock Bob LeClerc, and flanker Fifita Mounga are new to the team this year.
Although Uruguay are little-regarded, the Tero Teros come into tomorrow's match having rested 12 of their starting lineup during Tuesday's midweek match against Argentina, even as the US slugged it out with archrival Canada, in pursuit of qualifying as high as possible. The break is expected to play in role in Uruguay's defensive, forward-oriented gameplan.
The US lines up with McBride, Billups, and Sucher in the front row (Bill LeClerc is out with a partial ACL tear), Gross and LeClerc at lock, and Dave Hodges, Mounga, and Lumkong as the loose trio. Halfback Kevin Dalzell and flyhalf Mark Williams both come off strong outings.
Mark Scharrenberg and Juan Grobler form the midfield (with Ray Green ruled out by a knee injury, Tom Takau has flown in for cover), while wings Brian Hightower and Vaea Anitoni and fullback Andre Blom comprise the deep three.
"We can't allow the importance of the match to restructure our gameplan," US head coach Jack Clark said after announcing the lineup, which is subject to several fitness tests. "We need to trust in our abilities and have faith in one another."
United States: Andre Blom; Vaea Anitoni, Juan Grobler, Mark Scharrenberg, Brian Hightower; Mark Williams, Kevin Dalzell; John McBride, Tom Billups (captain), George Sucher, Luke Gross, Bob LeClerc, Dave Hodges, Fifita Mounga, Rob Lumkong. Reserves: Sean Paga, Tom Takau, Britt Howard; Shaun Paga, Jason Walker, Kirk Khasigian, Ray Lehner.