(Honolulu, Hawaii) 11 June 1999 -- The Epson Cup Pacific Rim title could be at stake tomorrow when the United States meets Japan at Honolulu's Kapiolani Park.
Hawaii's first-ever international rugby match pits the front-running Cherry Blossoms (3-1, 13 points) against the second-placed Eagles (2-0, 8 points) in a pivotal contest for the newly expanded, six-team conference. A Japanese win would close out their season marred only by last week's loss to Fiji, while a home victory would also leave the road open for the US, 2-1 Fiji, and 1-1-1 Samoa.
Another big American crowd, including International Rugby Board Chief Executive Stephen Baines, is expected for the match.
Idle since May 22's 25-14 win over Fiji, the US lineup is little changed, manager Rick Humm said today in announcing the starting XV. But having arrived late on Wednesday, one of the team's biggest challenges is recovering from the long travel to a "home" game, bearing in mind that distant road matches in Toronto and Apia, Samoa, lay in wait on following weekends.
"As we've emphasized to the players, we're preparing each week to produce results on Saturday but also to build toward the year's pinnacle, the Rugby World Cup in October," Humm said.
Comparatively free from injury worries, the US again named the fresh-faced tandem of halfback Kevin Dalzell and flyhalf David Niu, both coming off good San Francisco performances. But the duo could have their hands full with former All Black scrumhalf Graeme Bachop and record goalkicking flyhalf Keiji Hirose.
In the centers, Mark Scharrenberg and Juan Grobler start while Alatini Saulala goes to the bench. The trio have split playing time to date. With Chris Morrow out, fullback Kurt Shuman again joings Brian Hightower and Vaea Anitoni, the USA's two best wings. Wing is also a Japanese strength.
George Sucher, Tom Billups, and Ray Lehner retain their front row places on merit, while Philippe Farner edges out unlucky Alec Parker to join Luke Gross in the second row. Returning from injury, Parker graded out well against Fiji, Humm said. The balanced backrow features the athletic Richard Tardits, Dave Hodges--another Fiji standout--and ever-present captain Dan Lyle.
But the backrow too will be matched against some world-class talent, headed by former All Black number 8 Jamie Joseph, who's scored two match-winning injury-time tries this season.
Forward Jason Walker is the USA's dependable "super sub," though young Shaun Paga may also see some playing time. In the backs, Mark Williams isn't quite recovered from May's 15 torn bicep injury, though the veteran flyhalf gamely steered Colorado's Aspen to its third consecutive USA Rugby title this past weekend.
United States: Kurt Shuman; Vaea Anitoni, Juan Grobler, Mark Scharrenberg, Brian Hightower; David Niu, Kevin Dalzell; George Sucher, Tom Billups, Ray Lehner, Luke Gross, Philippe Farner, Dave Hodges, Richard Tardits, Dan Lyle (captain). Reserves: Bill LeClerc, Shaun Paga, Kirk Khasigian, Jason Walker, Britt Howard, Mark Williams, Alatini Saulala.
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