(Hong Kong) 15 May 1998 -- Injuries have forced two changes in the USA's starting backline for tomorrow's Canterbury of New Zealand Pacific Rim Rugby Championship match against Hong Kong, US head coach Jack Clark announced today.
Alatini Saulala comes in for Juan Grobler at center, while Tomasi Takau takes up the somewhat novel position of wing in place of Chris Schlereth. Grobler broke his arm in last Sunday's 38-27 win over Japan, while Schlereth's hamstring condition has ruled him out of tomorrow's contest at Aberdeen Stadium.
Takau's first-choice position is center, but the versatile Aspen player has earned several caps wearing the number 11 jersey, including his debut international against Argentina in 1994. "The decision was about getting as many of our best players on the field as possible," Clark said.
With Grobler and Schlereth back in the States and backup fullback Chris Morrow also nursing a suspect hamstring, the US has brought veterans Saulala and Takau and uncapped winger Jason Raven into camp to fill the void. The trio will continue on to Canada next week.
Elsewhere, Andre Bachelet and Matt Alexander start at halfback and flyhalf, Mark Scharrenberg goes at inside center, Vaea Anitoni is at right wing, and Andre Blom continues at fullback.
The forward pack also sees two changes, as the US shuffles its combination to stop an aggressive Dragon unit that hogged the ball in last Saturday's convincing 23-17 win over Canada. The hosts have made just one change in all, bringing in a new loosehead prop.
Mike Stanaway replaces Ray Lehner in the front row, while Jay Wilkerson comes in for rookie David Care at flanker. Wilkerson and fellow backrower Jason Walker as well as surprise replacement center Kurt Shuman all put a big stamp on the Japanese test, coming off the bench to poach possession and put in some big tackles.
Tom Billups captains the team from hooker, joined by Chris Lippert and Stanaway in the front ranks. Luke Gross and Alec Parker form the second row, and Wilkerson teams with Dave Hodges and Rob Lumkong in the loose trio.
Though the United States leads the playing series with Hong Kong 3-2, the Eagles are still looking for their first win in the one-time British colony, where the hosts have lost just two games in three years. Heat well above 80 degrees with 80-plus-percent humidity will complicate the job of a team coming off a short week after Sunday's test, and midway through its longest road swing of the 1998 season.
Both teams are 1-0, and the winner goes into first place in the Pacific Rim standings.
"We've have a good week of training, and I feel we're well prepared," Clark said. "We'll need to improve in some areas like restarts and defense from last week and survive the conditions."
United States: Andre Blom; Vaea Anitoni, Alatini Saulala, Mark Scharrenberg, Tomasi Takau; Matt Alexander, Andre Bachelet; Chris Lippert, Tom Billups, Mike Stanaway, Luke Gross, Alec Parker, Dave Hodges, Jay Wilkerson, Rob Lumkong. Reserves: Chris Morrow, Kurt Shuman, Kevin Dalzell; David Care, Ray Lehner, Sean Allen, Jason Walker.