Late Try Proves the Difference in US Trials Match
(Las Vegas, Nevada) 14 December 1996 -- Prop George Sucher barreled down the right sideline on a 20-yard scoring run to give the Red squad a 31-30 win over the White team in today's US National Team Trials Match at Sam Boyd Stadium. The 78th-minute try capped an entertaining, back-and-forth match that undoubtedly saw several players win places on the US National Team's January 1997 tour of Wales.

With a stout wind at their backs, the Red team opened a quick 10-0 lead on a penalty goal by Mark Williams and a converted try by wing Wally Lester. But White wing Brian Hightower dotted two unconverted tries in the space of four minutes to level the contest at the end of the first quarter. Hightower's first score showed off his athleticism, but his second was the product of smooth backline passing.

Led by flanker Dave Hodges and halfback Britt Howard, the Whites carried play for much of the second quarter, yet Red number eight Fili Lametta earned the only score at 33 minutes, the reward for a strong run from scrummage. The Reds thus took a 15-10 lead to half.

Williams's Red squad pressed their advantage from the start of the second half and opened a 16-point edge after 53 minutes. Following two more penalty goals by the veteran fullback, flanker Paul Vogel bulldozed tap-move ball through several tacklers for an unconverted try. Bridgend lock Cliff Vogl figured prominently in all three scores.

A storming try by center Alitini Saulala brought the Whites back to 26-17. Then, capitalizing on good forward pressure, flyhalf Ian Stevens chipped a short penalty goal, before exploiting a tighthead to score an unassisted try converted by Chris Morrow.

Fullback Morrow's more difficult penalty goal at 72 minutes gave the Whites a 30-26 lead and appeared to clinch the contest, but the Red forwards refused to quit, and drove their opponents back into the own half. Fielding a poor clearing kick, wing Chip Curtis made a strong counterattack run to set up Sucher's winning score.

"From a technical standpoint, the contest was mostly good," US National Team Coach Jack Clark commented after the exciting finish. "But the commitment of the players was everything that any national team coach in any country could ever hope for, and I have to admit that it was an entertaining match as well."

Though tight-lipped about selections for the upcoming Wales tour, Clark made it clear that several players had made an impression. Cliff Vogl, Paul Vogel, and Chip Curtis headed the Reds' list of performers, while Chris Hinton, Dave Hodges, Britt Howard, Ian Stevens, and Chris Morrow showed well for the Whites. Former All-Americans Jason Wood, Jared Allen, and Jason Perez also helped their cause.