In the forwards, captain Dan Lyle moves from his customary position at blindside to number eight, while Life College flanker Jon Holtzman takes over the number 6 jersey. Holtzman, unavailable for much of 1996, earns his first cap since debuting in the Eagles' 15-14 win over Canada in a September 1995 game in Toronto. Ironically, he gets his chance because Life teammate Richard Tardits has returned to the States for business matters.
Lock Cliff Vogl, who left the US camp last week to attend to family matters, rejoins the starting lineup, pairing with Luke Gross. Chris Lippert and Mike Stanaway, both members of OMBAC's 1996 national championship team, again surround hooker Tom Billups in the front row.
Called up to replace the injured Brian Hightower, wing Chip Curtis (also Life College) gets his first start. Curtis earned his first cap as a late replacement against Canada last week, but this week marks the former Combined Services player's big chance. Curtis first surfaced at the US trials camp in Las Vegas last December, and subsequently traveled with the US to Wales in January, making his maiden international experience in a midweek win over club side Pontypridd.
On the other wing, OMBAC speedster Malakai Delai appears in place of Vaea Anitoni (who's back in the States owing to work commitments). It's Delai's first 15s appearance since last year's Pacific Rim, though he was a member of the USA's Bowl-winning Hong Kong 7s team. The center pairing too has been revised. With Alatini Saulala out with an ankle injury, Tomasi Takau bumps in from the wing to outside center, while Mark Scharrenberg replaces Juan Grobler at number 12.
Facing a Hong Kong team that downed Japan 42-20 in both teams' opener, the US goes up against a side much improved from 1997. A change in Pacific Rim eligibility standards and the Hong Kong union's extraordinary wealth have combined to lure any number of Southern hemisphere provincial players into the fold. More than ever, one takes the Dragons lightly at one's own expense.
"It's been a difficult week. Especially coming off a tough loss, Hong Kong is a difficult place to prepare," US Coach Clark noted. "With all that said, the team has responded well to the changes we've made. We're hopeful for a positive result."
United States: Chris Morrow; Malakai Delai, Tomasi Takau, Mark Scharrenberg, Chip Curtis; Matt Alexander, Andre Bachelet; Chris Lippert, Tom Billups, Mike Stanaway, Luke Gross, Cliff Vogl, Jon Holtzman, Jay Wilkerson, Dan Lyle (c). Reserves: Juan Grobler, Kurt Shuman, Britt Howard, Rob Randell, Ray Lehner, Sean Allen.