In the forwards, new cap Mike Stanaway of OMBAC joins Chris Lippert and Tom Billups in the front rank. Rob Randell and Luke Gross form the second-row pairing, while Richard Tardits and Jay Wilkerson pack down alongside Lyle in the back row. Just three remain from the USA's last match, a gritty 34-14 loss to Wales in Cardiff in January, though unavailability and injury combined with current playing form to introduce several of the changes.
Andre Bachelet and Matt Alexander comprise the halfback pairing, and Vaea Anitoni takes up his familiar place on the right wing. In the centers, Juan Grobler returns to the starting lineup at inside, while San Mateo's Alatini Saulala gains his first cap at outside. Tomasi Takau shifts over to wing for the first time since 1994, and Chris Morrow makes his first start at fullback. The Aspen player won his initial cap as a reserve against Wales in January.
Takau's appearance on the wing owes to this week's training injury to Brian Hightower, who fractured a cheekbone and has already had surgery. It's uncertain whether he'll be able to return before the Pacific Rim season ends, and Life College wing Chip Curtis has been called up in his place.
Although he's rejoined the team and will suit up as a reserve, lock Cliff Vogl attended a sudden funeral this week and didn't train much, and wasn't considered as a starter. Meanwhile, lock Alec Parker, who was to join the team before it heads to Hong Kong on Sunday, is ruled out for a knee injury that could sideline him too for the balance of the competition.
Opening against 1996 Pacific Rim champion Canada in Vancouver before heading on to Asia, the US immediately confronts its principal shortcoming from last season: winning on the road. A year ago, the Eagles fell to Canada 24-20 in injury time, lost to Hong Kong also in injury time, and were defeated by Japan by less than a try. Gaining points for the narrow losses and winning all three home games--two by large margins--the US finished second in the standings.
The budding competition should be even stiffer this year. While both Canada and the US should benefit from players who have gone to compete as professionals in Britain and France, Hong Kong and Japan have brought in Southern hemisphere players.
"The '96 version of the competition indicated how difficult road victories are to achieve," Head Coach Jack Clark noted after announcing selections. "This game is therefore a great opportunity for us to get off to a good start this year."
United States: Chris Morrow; Vaea Anitoni, Alatini Saulala, Juan Grobler, Tomasi Takau; Matt Alexander, Andre Bachelet; Chris Lippert, Tom Billups, Mike Stanaway, Rob Randell, Luke Gross, Dan Lyle (c), Jay Wilkerson, Richard Tardits. Reserves: Ray Lehner, Sean Allen, Cliff Vogl, Britt Howard, Mark Scharrenberg, Chip Curtis.