(Berkeley, California) 6 June 1997 -- Head coach Jack Clark today named the starting lineup for tomorrow's Canterbury Pacific Rim Rugby Championship match between the United States and Japan at Balboa Park's Matthew J. Boxer Stadium in San Francisco. The first match of the USA1s five-game homestand, Test Series '97, will see the Eagles try to maintain the momentum established with May 25's unlikely 20-12 victory over Japan in Osaka, one of just two road wins in the Pacific Rim competition to date. Both teams have 1-2 records, and are tied for third.
Despite the win, there are six changes in the lineup, most notably in the deep three. At wing, Brian Hightower and Vaea Anitoni return after an enforced absence on the May road swing. Hightower missed the first three Pacific Rim games with a fractured cheekbone, but has recovered remarkably quickly, while Anitoni played in only the Canadian match because of work commitments. Anitoni, who scored ten tries to lead the Pacific Rim in 1996, scored four tries last year against Japan in San Francisco to establish a US single-game record.
As promising rookie wing Chip Curtis finally pulled a nagging groin during training this week and the other wing, Juan Grobler, moves back to his preferred position of center to take over for the newly injured Tomsai Takau, the return of Hightower and Anitoni couldn1t have come at a better time.
Completing the deep three, veteran fullback Maika Sika joins the US for the first time in 1997, following a fine spring season with his Dallas Reds club. He takes over for versatile Kurt Shuman, who goes to the reserves bench while he continues his seasoning. The Penn State All-American has also trained at flyhalf and center, and has played only a handful of matches at number 15.
Halfback Andre Bachelet, flyhalf Matt Alexander, and center Mark Scharrenberg--returning home to the Bay Area after a year playing in England--all take up their customary positions.
In the forwards, the Gentlemen of Aspen's Bill LeClerc joins Chris Lippert and Sean Allen in the front row, while the second row pairing of Luke Gross and Cliff Vogl remains intact for the third straight match. In the backrow, Jay Wilkerson shifts over to blindside flanker, making way for OMBAC's Mika McLeod to gain his first cap at openside. An NAIA All-American pitcher, McLeod is also one of the USA's fastest players. Dan Lyle earns his 14th cap at number eight, and his fifth as captain.
Two players pass milestones today. At flyhalf, Matt Alexander makes his 15th international appearance, passing Chris O'Brien to become the USA's most capped flyhalf of all-time. Earlier this year, Alexander passed O'Brien to become the highest scorer of all time. (His running total is 168 points.) Meanwhile, prop Chris Lippert gains his 29th cap, breaking a second-place tie with backs Mark Williams and Kevin Higgins.
United States: Maika Sika; Vaea Anitoni, Juan Grobler, Mark
Scharrenberg, Brian Hightower; Matt Alexander, Andre Bachelet;
Chris Lippert, Sean Allen, Bill LeClerc, Luke Gross, Cliff Vogl, Jay
Wilkerson, Mika McLeod, Dan Lyle. Reserves: Dan Kennedy, Kurt
Shuman, Kevin Dalzell, Jason Walker, Sean Allen, Ray Lehner.