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It is twenty-years ago when the USA sent a seasoned, multi-capped fifteen to play in that year’s 1999 Rugby World Cup. Preliminary five pool (A,B, C, D, E) matches were contested in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England, and France.
Cal’s Jack Clark coached the USA National team, which consisted of two Oxford Blues, two Woodley award winners, and many national champion California, Berkeley, rugby graduates.
The team played in in Pool E and went 0-3; losing to Ireland 53-8, Romania 27-25, and, finally, to Australia 55-19.
Despite the wealth of seasoned talent, some owning European club contracts, the 1999 RWC demonstrated that the USA continued to rank as a second-tier rugby nation, lacking the in-depth professional experience of the first-tier rugby countries.
Ireland 53 - USA 8: The key statistic of this opening game was that Ireland’s hooker, Kevin Wood, scored a world-record four tries against an outclassed Eagle fifteen. The taller USA squad won only nine of 18 line-outs. Gimmicky, gridiron styled plays, produced many ball handling errors and knock-ons.
Romania 27 – USA 25: This was a match the USA could have and should have won but lost due to a defensive breakdown in the second half as Romania scored 22 of their 27 points in 23-minutes of play. The USA led 10-5 at the break, went ahead 17- 5 and then opened the floodgates to Romania. A scant 5,000 people attended Lansdowne Road, Dublin, a startling contrast in interest compared to the Wallaby-Ireland match when 42,500 fans showed up.
Australia 55 – USA 19: The Wallabies celebrated an eight-try win against a scrappy Eagle squad to set up the final pool match against Ireland, which they won 23-3. The USA lost to a superior rugby side who seemed in better physical shape to go the full time. The Aussies led 22-10 at the half and put on a try-scoring second half, led by their experienced backline that added 33 more points.
The 1999 squad engendered many future USA commercial rugby careers. Jack Clark continued as Cal coach, Tom Billups would become the USA Eagle coach, then assist Clark at Cal. Dan Lyle, team captain, worked for United World Sports - UWS (Las Vegas 7s and the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship). Dave Hodges also worked for UWS and, currently, manages the Eagle fifteen. David Niu is CEO of the proposed Super 7s League. Brian Hightower became a top rugby, television commentator.