(Wilmington, North Carolina) 4 July 1997 -- Hoping to reverse January's 34-14 loss in Cardiff, the US team to face Wales tomorrow in Wilmington, North Carolina, shows six changes from last week's starting lineup against Canada, and also six since the wintertime fixture.
Most come in the forwards, where the US confronts an opponent still more experienced than the veteran Canadians. Chris Lippert, Tom Billups, and Ray Lehner form an entirely changed front row, as coach Jack Clark continues to rotate players during the course of the USA's eight-game, ten-week test schedule. Following a questionable send-off, Bill LeClerc is ineligible for one game, while Sean Allen and Mike Stanaway go to the reserves bench.
Earning his second cap, Dave Hodges replaces Cliff Vogl at lock to give the Eagles more team speed and physicality. Jason Walker replaces Mika McLeod in the backrow, with Jay Wilkerson moving from blindside to openside.
Lock Alec Parker and number eight Rob Lumkong, who both played in the Cardiff match, have been out for the season with knee injuries.
In the backline, Tom Takau shades Alatini Saulala for the berth at outside center. Otherwise, the group is the same one that ran out against Canada in San Francisco, with wing Brian Hightower continuing to emerge as an impact player.
Hightower in fact earned his first cap in January, but Takau was then injured and did not travel to Wales. Chris Morrow, who also earned his initial cap (as a replacement) at the Arms Park, has since taken over at fullback from Aspen clubmate Mark Williams.
Saturday's match, the third meeting between Wales and the US (Wales won the first-ever meeting 46-0 in 1987), is the first to come on American soil. For number eight and captain Dan Lyle and Hightower, it's also an opportunity to play in front of family and friends. Lyle is from Richmond, Virginia, and went to VMI, while Hightower, a Baltimore native, went to William and Mary and sometimes summered in North Carolina, before working as a hang-gliding instructor in Kitty Hawk.
The US has played eight home tests since 1996, six in San Francisco as part of the regionally based Pacific Rim Rugby Championship, one in Atlanta (against Ireland) and now one in Wilmington. As the capstone to the Cape Fear 7s tournament being played this weekend, the first Welsh test has been given a hearty reception by the community and gathering rugby players and enthusiasts.
"This test between the US and Wales is all about opportunity for the US," coach Clark commented. "A victory would obviously be a breakthrough, but it's a necessity that we compete for the full 80 minutes. Our true fans deserve no less."
United States: Chris Morrow; Vaea Anitoni, Tom Takau, Mark Scharrenberg, Brian Hightower; Matt Alexander, Andre Bachelet; Chris Lippert, Sean Allen, Ray Lehner, Dave Hodges, Luke Gross, Jason Walker, Jay Wilkerson, Dan Lyle (c). Reserves: Kurt Shuman, Alatini Saulala, Kevin Dalzell; Mika McLeod, Sean Allen, Mike Stanaway.