USA head coach Duncan Hall has shuffled his starting line-up for tomorrow's match against Fiji, making room for a handful of experienced players now available to the Eagles.
Wing Vaea Anitoni, lock Luke Gross and center Alatini Saulala will all make their first starts since the Rugby World Cup and Hayward No. 8 Olo Fifita gets his first cap for the USA.
Hall will need the older, wiser and hopefully cooler heads to lead the Eagles against a Fiji side he characterizes as powerful: "I think Fiji will be very motivated after losing their last game to Samoa. We've got to knuckle down, and minimize mistakes and turnovers."
Anitoni assumes the right wing position from Denver's Andre Blom who was not available for the USA's latest assembly, while Gross' return from the Italian club championships comes at the expense of collegiate All-American Matt Kane.
Fifita's start for the national team, meanwhile, has been a long time coming. The 6'3", 240lb loose forward has been on the Eagles' short list for a couple of seasons, but either injury or availability issues have precluded previous selection.
"Olo gives us a bit more firepower in the back row," noted coach Hall. The move also means captain Dave Hodges returns to his more familiar slot on the blindside flank, Don Younger moves to the bench, and collegiate prodigy Kort Schubert holds down the openside position.
In the centers, Saulala's return gives the USA a power runner: "'Tini' is a big strong guy in the middle," said Hall, "and Eloff at outside gives us a lot of options." The Eagles will also have Denver's Juan Grobler in reserve who paired with Eloff through the first three internationals of the year.
After victories over Japan and Canada, the Eagles are the only undefeated team in the Epson Cup. The match against Fiji in Apia, Samoa will be followed by a clash against Tonga next week. The Eagles then close out the Epson Cup against Samoa in San Francisco on July 15th.
United States: Kurt Shuman; Vaea Anitoni, Philip Eloff, Alatini Saulala,
Malakai Delai; Grant Wells, Kevin Dalzell; Joe Clayton, Kirk Khasigian, John McBride, Luke Gross, Philippe Farner, Dave Hodges (captain), Kort Schubert, Olo Fifita. Reserves: Mose Timoteo, Link Wilfley, Juan Grobler, Don Younger, Ray Lehner, Mike McDonald, Robbie Flynn.
© USA National Rugby Team
Scott Compton, Media Relations
Hudson Rugby Fieldhouse
Berkeley, California 94720 4426
phone 510.643.1971 / fax 510.643.2192