(San Francisco, California) 7 June 1997 -- Winger Brian Hightower marked his return to action with four tries as the US National Rugby Team beat Japan 51-29 in a Canterbury Pacific Rim Rugby Championship match Saturday at Balboa Park's Boxer Stadium.
Hightower, who had been sidelined with a fractured cheekbone, equalled the Eagles' single-game scoring record as the US backline outgunned their Japanese opponents, scoring eight tries to three. Two of Hightower's tries came practically from the kickoff: at 1 and 41 minutes.
"Having a good start in both the first and second halves was key to our victory," US coach Jack Clark noted. But Hightower, who comes from the Gentlemen of Aspen club in Colorado, downplayed his contribution: "We thought we could have some success running the ball wide," he said after the game, "and I was just doing my job."
The winger's efforts kept the Japanese from their defensive assignments. Japanese coach Seiji Hirao praised Hightower's skills and said his team simply could not stop the 185-lb speedster, who refused to go down in the tackle.
With the wind at their backs, the Cherry Blossoms matched the US in the first half, going into the break tied 22-22. Two tries from Hightower paced the hosts, while Japanese halfback Wataru Murata answered with a try, a conversion, and a penalty goal.
The game was still close midway through the second period at 34-29, but the Eagles' defense stiffened, allowing the team to pull away in the closing minutes through tries by Andre Bachelet, Hightower, and Mark Scharrenberg. The sending off of Japanese lock Hiroyuki Tanuma for stamping prop Bill LeClerc on the head was also a factor, leaving the Japanese side playing a man short.
"We had some bad luck but were basically outplayed," noted Japanese coach Seiji Hirao. "I don't understand why we didn't play better defense."
The US pulls to 2-2 in the Pacific Rim standings and faces Hong Kong next Saturday, again in San Francisco.