(Berkeley, California) 13 June 1997 -- Two new caps and three more 1997 debutants form an important part of the US lineup to face Hong Kong in Saturday's Canterbury of New Zealand Pacific Rim Rugby Championship match at Balboa Park's Boxer Stadium in San Francisco.
Fullback Dan Kennedy and flanker Scott Yungling get their first chances at the test level as the Eagles try to overtake Hong Kong and move into second place in the Pacific Rim. Simultaneously, flanker Mika McLeod will try to improve on his debut in last week's 51-29 victory over Japan, and injured center Alatini Saulala returns for the first time since his maiden international, last month against Canada in Vancouver.
Though it hardly seems possible, wing Brian Hightower's four-try performance a week ago came in just his second match in an Eagle jersey. The Aspen standout debuted against Wales in January, but missed the road portion of the USA's Pacific Rim season owing to a May training injury.
Captain Dan Lyle at number eight and all-time leading US try scorer Vaea Anitoni at wing lend experience to the backrow and deep three units, respectively, but it's easy to see that the newcomers will have their hands full against the high-scoring Hong Kong backline. With Wiremu Maunsell, Riaz Fredericks, and Chris Gordon new to the Territory this year, the Dragons have become a most explosive group. Wing Luke Nabaro is a real danger man.
The rest of the US team is familiar. Veterans Chris Lippert, Tom Billups, and Bill LeClerc form the front row, and Cliff Vogl and Luke Gross make up the second row. Andre Bachelet and Matt Alexander pair at halfback, and Mark Scharrenberg at inside center lines up next to Saulala.
With the US posting a win in its first home match of the season, both teams are currently 2-2, but the Dragons are ahead in the standings by result of a bonus point earned during last week's 17-16 loss to Canada. Hong Kong handled the US 46-9 last month in Hong Kong, a steamy game in which the visitors' defense and ball retention looked poor.
"Hong Kong is capable of scoring tries in bunches. It's possibly the most talented group of backs in the competition," US head coach Jack Clark noted after announcing Saturday's lineup. "We'll need to play good defense, and we'll need to keep our turnovers to a minimum."
United States: Dan Kennedy; Vaea Anitoni, Alatini Saulala, Mark Scharrenberg, Brian Hightower; Matt Alexander, Andre Bachelet; Chris Lippert, Tom Billups, Bill LeClerc, Cliff Vogl, Luke Gross, Scott Yungling, Mika McLeod, Dan Lyle (c). Reserves: Kurt Shuman, Tomasi Takau, Kevin Dalzell; Jason Walker, Sean Allen, Ray Lehner.