(Killiney, Ireland) 30 September 1999 -- Flanker Dan Lyle captains the United States against Ireland on Saturday, in both teams' opening Rugby World Cup match and the Eagles' first World Cup appearance since 1991.
Having drawn Ireland at Dublin's famous Lansdowne Road stadium, the USA begins the tournament as a Pool E longshot. Ireland is coming off a September win over Americas champion Argentina, while the Eagles were comprehensively beaten by England earlier this month. Pool E also includes Romania and World Cup co-favorite Australia.
Saturday's US team welcomes the return of flanker Richard Tardits and wing Vaea Anitoni, both of whom have recovered from early September injuries to regain their starting positions. Tardits suffered a torn meniscus during a training practice, while Anitoni sprained an ankle against England.
In the forwards, props George Sucher and Ray Lehner and hooker Tom Billups make up the front row, while Luke Gross and Dave Hodges pair at lock. Billups and Gross remain from the last time Ireland and the US met, in Atlanta in 1996, Gross making his international debut that rainy January day. Their leadership could be vital, as US scrummaging is expected to come under heavy pressure from Ireland's more experienced pack.
Lyle, Tardits, and Rob Lumkong form the backrow. Now a veteran of 24 caps and the most-experienced skipper in US history, Lyle too made his debut against Ireland, at Lansdowne Road in October 1994.
Kevin Dalzell and Mark Williams partner at halfback, and Tom Takau and Juan Grobler form the midfield. In his first year as first-choice scrumhalf, Dalzell has lead the US in scoring even though he's shared placekicking duties with Williams, the USA's only holdover from the 1991 World Cup.
Brian Hightower and Anitoni are the wings, and Kurt Shuman the fullback. While Anitoni claims 25 tries in 41 tests, both American records, Hightower and Shuman each debuted as test players in 1997. Both are graduate students, Hightower at Dartmouth College and Shuman at Oxford University.
Despite finishing third in the springtime Epson Cup tournament with wins over Tonga, Fiji, and Canada, the USA's loss to England illustrated the gap between 'developing nations' with amateur players, such as the United States, and 'established nations' with professional players, like Australia, England, and Ireland.
Yesterday's launch of a book commemorating 125 years of Irish rugby further underlined the point: The Irish Rugby Football Union celebrated its centenary in 1974, one year before USA Rugby was founded. The USA is the youngest union at the World Cup.
United States: Kurt Shuman; Vaea Anitoni, Juan Grobler, Tom Takau, Brian Hightower; Mark Williams, Kevin Dalzell; George Sucher, Tom Billups, Ray Lehner, Luke Gross, Dave Hodges, Dan Lyle (captain), Richard Tardits, Rob Lumkong. Reserves: Mark Scharrenberg, David Niu, Jesse Coulson, Fifita Mo'unga, Alec Parker, Joe Clayton, Kirk Khasigian.
© USA National Rugby Team
USA National Rugby Team
2802 10th Street
Berkeley, CA 94710