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Disappointing Asian Trip Leaves US with Work to Do

(Berkeley, California) 18 June 1996 -- The USA National Rugby Team returned home yesterday, following two disappointing Pacific Rim league losses to Hong Kong and Japan.

Sunday's 24-18 defeat in Tokyo was filled with US errors. Coming off a dispiriting 22-19 injury-time setback in Hong Kong on June 9, the Eagles struggled to hold onto the ball and took a lot of penalties. Enterprising Japan also looked quicker around the park than their opponents. Still, as has been the case in all of their Pacific Rim contests, at game's end the US were in a position to win.

In the Japanese contest, center Kiyoshi Imaizumi's opening try gave the hosts a 5-0 lead before three consecutive penalty goals, two by US flyhalf Matt Alexander, brought the halftime count to 8-6 in favor of Japan. The Eagles snatched the lead three minutes after the restart on a converted try by wing Vaea Anitoni. Yet the 13-8 advantage was short-lived, as Japan answered just moments later with a goal of their own.

Two more Japanese penalty kicks widened the gap to 21-13 after 62 minutes, but Anitoni's second try after 73 minutes pulled the US to within sight of victory. With time winding down, the Eagles mounted great pressure, even going over the line. The rally died when a US five-meter scrummage ended with a bizarre penalty on US halfback Andre Bachelet, and the game closed with a final Japanese penalty kick.

Among the US tour party of 23, wing Anitoni and flyhalf Alexander performed best. Anitoni has now scored four tries in as many games, while Alexander turned in two fine kicking displays. Against Japan, he often put the US into good field position with driving tactical boots. Rookie lock Alec Parker made a promising debut in his first two international matches.

Meanwhile, great is the frustration of a team that's now lost three consecutive games by a try -- two in injury-time -- but with two home fixtures left in the inaugural Pan Pacific competition, the Eagles can still produce some victories and earn second-place, to go along with some costly lessons. "We've learned a lot about ourselves," head coach Jack Clark commented following the Asian tour. "I'm disappointed with two losses, but I'm happy for the experience of playing matches.

"I'm encouraged by the play of some of our players, and equally disappointed in others. I have no doubt that we'll emerge from this competition as a better team."

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