In the forwards, captain Dan Lyle again shifts over to number eight, with blindside flanker filled by Life College's Jon Holtzman. Jay Wilkerson continues as the openside flanker. Richard Tardits and flanker/lock Rob Randell have already left the tour party.
Cliff Vogl pairs with Luke Gross at second row, but because Randell has had to return home to attend to a family illness, Lyle is actually the backup lock. Taking over for Tom Billups--who was diagnosed in Hong Kong as having fractured vertebrae, but whose MRI in the US revealed no cracks, meaning he has nothing more than a sore neck--Sean Allen joins clubside teammates Chris Lippert and Mike Stanaway in the front row. The trio anchored OMBAC's 1996 national championship team, and will get the chance to defend their title next weekend at the US "final four" in San Diego.
Andre Bachelet and Matt Alexander form the halfback pairing, while Mark Scharrenberg and Tomasi Takau comprise the centers. Wing Chip Curtis earns the nod at left wing, but Juan Grobler replaces Malakai Delai on the right side. At fullback, Kurt Shuman gets first start (and second cap), replacing Chris Morrow. Shuman recently led Penn State to second place in the US collegiate championships.
Owing to the smallish travel party and the number of injuries the US has sustained, virtually everyone else in Osaka in on the reserves list.
Facing Japan for the first time in 1997, the US meets a team still charged up by its 32-31 defeat of Canada last weekend. But although the hosts won that contest in the last minute, they actually outscored the Maple Leafs by four tries to two, and generally looked more dangerous offensively. The US defense, test sorely in its last two outings, looks to have another long day on its hands.
Referring to the team's uncharacteristic recent losses, the disruption caused by injuries, and the general rigors of the longish May trip, coach Clark noted that "We're trying desperately for a victory, but I can't imagine the circumstances being more difficult for us." Asked about the team's chances, he said, "A win would be a great victory for us."
United States: Kurt Shuman; Juan Grobler, Tomasi Takau, Mark Scharrenberg, Chip Curtis; Matt Alexander, Andre Bachelet; Chris Lippert, Sean Allen, Mike Stanaway, Luke Gross, Cliff Vogl, Jon Holtzman, Jay Wilkerson, Dan Lyle (c). Reserves: Malakai Delai, Chris Morrow, Britt Howard, Kirk Khasigian, Ray Lehner, Travis Kelsey.