(Berkeley, California) 4 March 1998 -- Brian Hightower and Vaea Anitoni headline the ten-man United States squad headed to the Hong Kong 7s tournament at the end of the month, two of only three players returning from last year's 7s Rugby World Cup Plate championship team.
Center Al Dekin will captain the much-changed side, US National Team 7s Director Keith Seaber announced today.
Hightower, a hooker, has been the steadiest Eagle 7s player over the course of the past year, playing well in all five of the tournaments the US has entered and winning selection to a Northern hemisphere-Southern hemisphere all-star match at December's Dubai 7s tournament. Anitoni, meanwhile, helped his San Mateo side to a US 7s club championship and the Pacific Coast to a repeat 7s Inter-Territorial Tournament (ITT) title.
Dekin, the longtime Hartford and Washington standout now with Belmont Shore, guided Southern California to a runner-up finish at the January ITT event. "He's a very steadying influence, in training and on the field," Seaber said of his skipper, who was first capped in 1993.
As the National Team worked to build a 7s player pool in anticipation of the next World Cup, some 26 players represented the US in 7s over the course of the last year--16 for the first time. The best and most promising performers generally received repeat invitations, and ultimately the best performers were chosen for Hong Kong.
Four players who joined the US for the first time last year, Dave Hodges, Willie Mahoni, Soane Tau, and Eric Tuipulotu, earned the nod. All but Tau debuted at December's Dubai 7s, where the Eagles gained the Plate final. Additionally, Mahoni, Tau, and Tuipulotu earned both club and 7s ITT titles, while Hodges is currently playing professionally for Wales' Llanelli.
Milwaukee and Midwest prop Rich Matiszik will make his first-ever appearance for the US, while Thad Hill and Malakai Delai, the third of last year's Hong Kong trio, round out the team.
Injuries and unavailability for 7s duties ruled out the balance of last year's squad, notably prop Dan Lyle. Center Alatini Saulala was also unable to commit to this year's team.
Bill Russell gets his second chance at the helm in Hong Kong, having guided the Eagles in Dubai. "He's extremely thorough in his research of players and into the game itself," Seaber said of the Old Blue (NY) stalwart. "He's the man for the job."
Physiotherapist Ed Ayub returns to the US staff to round out the tour party. Ayub is a veteran of several Hong Kong 7s tournaments as well as numerous US 15s events.
Notwithstanding its building program, the US has drawn a difficult pool, including New Zealand, 7s specialists Korea, and Singapore. "It's a very hard pool--I think it's the toughest," Seaber noted of the USA's assignment. "But we'll stick to our guns and try to come through."
The 24-team Hong Kong tournament is divided into six pools of four, with the pool winners and the two-best runner-ups advancing into the quarterfinals. The two-day competition takes place on March 28 and 29.
United States to Hong Kong 7s
Roster: Vaea Anitoni, Al Dekin (c), Malakai Delai, Brian Hightower,
Thad Hill, David Hodges, Rich Matiszik, Willie Mahoni, Soane Tau, Eric
Staff: Bill Russell, coach; Keith Seaber, manager; Ed Ayub, physiotherapist.
© USA National Rugby Team
Kurt Oeler, Media Relations
Hudson Rugby Fieldhouse
Berkeley, California 94720 4426
phone 510.643.1971 / fax 510.643.2192