USA National Rugby Team


US Hopes to Open 1997 on a Bright Note

(Cardiff, Wales) 30 December 1996 -- Looking to begin 1997 on a bright note, the US National Team today announced a veteran team to meet Wales 'A' on January 1 at the National Stadium in Cardiff.

Recovered from an injury that kept him from September's Pan American Championship, flanker Dan Lyle captains the Eagles. Prop Bill LeClerc also returns to the lineup, bolstering a forward pack that shows plenty of experience in front-rowers Chris Lippert and Tom Billups and number eight Rob Lumkong. Luke Gross and Alec Parker are a young but talented pair at lock.

As another sign of professionalism's influence, all but LeClerc and Parker (both from Colorado's Gentlemen of Aspen) play for British clubs. Lyle has been grabbing headlines for Bath, while Lumkong recently inked a pact with Pontypridd. Billups toils for Blackheath and Gross for Harlequins, while Lippert left Rugby last month and but intends to continue on abroad.

Andre Bachelet (Reading) and Matt Alexander pair again at halfback, but the rest of the line is more of a "form" combination. Though center Mark Scharrenberg (Reading) and wing Vaea Anitoni take their familiar places, center Boydy Wikeepa and wing Brian Hightower make their first appearances for the United States. Fullback Mark Williams hasn't started since last June, but all three looked good at the USA's December 14 trials match, with Hightower scoring two tries.

Though Wales 'A' is an unlikely opponent for experimentation, the scheduling and short duration of the four-game tour leaves no room for a slow start.

Interestingly, the fixture itself is now on its third venue. Originally scheduled for Swansea, in December the game was moved to Newport. A frost that forced cancellation of most the Welsh Heineken League games last weekend then prompted officials to move the contest south, to the National Stadium.

"Needless to say, we would have preferred to have a match under our belts before meeting Wales 'A'," US General Manager and Head Coach Jack Clark commented after announcing the side. "But the schedule is what it is.

"On every tour, the first match is an important contest to win," he continued. "Completely prepared or not, we'll put everything into the game."

United States: Mark Williams (Gentlemen of Aspen); Vaea Anitoni (Yankees), Boydy Wikeepa (Seattle), Mark Scharrenberg (Reading), Brian Hightower (Gentlemen of Aspen); Matt Alexander (Denver Barbarians), Andre Bachelet (Reading); Chris Lippert (Rugby), Tom Billups (Reading), Bill LeClerc (Gentlemen of Aspen), Luke Gross (Harlequins), Alec Parker (Gentlemen of Aspen), Dan Lyle (Bath) (captain), Jay Wilkerson (Belmont Shore), Rob Lumkong (Pontypridd).