(Berkeley, California) 27 June 1997 -- Matched against archrival Canada in its final Canterbury of New Zealand Pacific Rim Rugby Championship game of 1997, the United States looks to extend its three-game win streak tomorrow at Balboa Park's Boxer Stadium in San Francisco.
A victory would tie the two teams at 4-2 in the Pacific Rim standings, but Canada (4-1, 17 points) has already sewn up the title, having gained a bonus point out of its narrow May 18 defeat by Japan. The US (3-2, 12 points) didn't gain any bonus points in either of its two losses. Four points are awarded for a win, two for a tie, and one for a loss by less than seven.
A win would also lessen American memories of May 10's surprising 53-12 loss in Vancouver and even the two teams' 1997 slate at 1-1, while leveling the series since 1995 at 3-3.
Coming off a thrilling 17-14 win over visiting Hong Kong on June 14, the US has made four changes to the starting XV. Two come in the front row, where Mike Stanaway takes over for Chris Lippert at loosehead prop, adding some mobility, and Sean Allen steps in for Tom Billups at hooker. Allen, who has pressed the London Harlequins player closely over the years, has nonetheless made just three international appearances while Billups has piled up 21.
"Our two hookers are a couple of the most admired players in the team and they're very supportive of each other," US head coach Jack Clark noted in announcing selections. "It's been very close every step of the way. Tom does somes things a little better, but Sean has a slight edge in lineouts, and gets the nod tomorrow."
At blindside flanker, Dave Hodges replaces Scott Yungling, who was capped for the first time against Hong Kong, and who will be assigned to the USA Developmental XV that's to play touring Wales in San Francisco on July 8.
In the backs, fullback Chris Morrow replaces Dan Kennedy, who also made his first international appearance against Hong Kong, and who will also be part of the Developmental XV.
The stalwarts: Teaming at second row, Luke Gross and Cliff Vogl again form the heart of the forward pack. Flanker Mika McLeod makes his third straight start at openside, and Dan Lyle captains the team from number eight. In the backs, Andre Bachelet and Hong Kong man-of-the-match Matt Alexander pair at halfback, Mark Scharrenberg and Alatini Saulala form the midfield, and exciting rookie Brian Hightower and Vaea Anitoni are the two wings.
Besides leveling the score with Canada, a win Saturday would give the US momentum for its two upcoming matches with touring Wales, on July 5 in Wilmington, North Carolina, and July 12 in San Francisco. But the Eagles' focus is very much on their archrivals. "Canada is a very accomplished team, and we have a great deal of respect for them," Clark commented. "But our last match with Canada left a bitter taste in our mouths. Pacific Rim standings aside, we're determined to make a better showing."
United States: Chris Morrow; Vaea Anitoni, Alatini Saulala, Mark Scharrenberg, Brian Hightower; Matt Alexander, Andre Bachelet; Mike Stanaway, Sean Allen, Bill LeClerc, Luke Gross, Cliff Vogl, Dave Hodges, Mika McLeod, Dan Lyle (c). Reserves: Kevin Dalzell, Tomasi Takau, Kurt Shuman; Jason Walker, Tom Billups, Ray Lehner.