Eagles field top side for France
October 29, 2003

The United States will put their best team on the pitch when they meet France in their final pool match of the Rugby World Cup on Friday.

The Americans, fresh off Monday's World Cup win over Japan, will continue in their efforts to play their best rugby of the year at the World Cup according to head coach Tom Billups. While some teams are resting or rotating players in late pool matches, the US team makes only two changes to their starting lineup.

"This is the best team America can field," said Billups. "As has been the case all year long, the team selection is based on merit."

Lock Alec Parker returns from a knock against Scotland to join with Luke Gross in the second row, while fullback John Buchholz, who came on as a substitute against both Fiji and Japan, earns his first start of the World Cup.

Eagles captain Dave Hodges will start at the openside flanker position, and is joined by blindside flanker Kort Schubert and number 8 Dan Lyle. Lyle will earn his 45th cap in the contest, passing Billups for sole possession of fourth place on the all-time Eagles list.

The front row remains Mike MacDonald, Kirk Khasigian, and Dan Dorsey, reuniting the starting forward pack from the Eagles' first two World Cup contests.

In the backs, Kevin Dalzell slots in at scrumhalf alongside flyhalf Mike Hercus, who has scored 132 points in the 2003 season. Matt Alexander holds the Eagles record with 133 points. With two points on Friday night, Hercus will also pass 200 points in his Eagles career.

Salesi Sika makes his second career start at center, joined by Phillip Eloff, who helped propel the Eagles to their Monday night victory with a try, several strong runs, and solid tackling. Kain Cross, who started the Eagles' first two World Cup contests, remains unavailable due to injury.

Riaan Van Zyl and David Fee will start on the wings for the fourth time in this World Cup and the eleventh time this season out of thirteen games. Buchholz, meanwhile, starts for the fourth time in his career, and his first since August's clash with Argentina.

The United States will need to play their best rugby to remain competitive with the strong, fully professional French side. They have scored at least fifty points in each of their first three matches against Fiji, Japan, and Scotland, earning the top quarterfinal seed out of Pool B in the process.

"We are under no illusions of the difficulties that face us Friday night in Wollongong," said Billups. "The French are proving to have the right formula in place to go straight to the Finals. We know what that formula looks like, having played against Australia in 1999."

The United States has also made three changes to its bench for the contest. Matt Sherman and Mose Timoteo will be on the reserve bench for the first time in the 2003 World Cup, and Gerhard Klerck, who started in place of Parker on Monday, will join Matt Wyatt, Jacob Waasdorp, Jurie Gouws, and Jason Keyter among the reserves.

Friday's match takes place at 7:30 p.m. at Wollongong's WIN Stadium.

United States: John Buchholz; David Fee, Phillip Eloff, Salesi Sika, Riaan Van Zyl; Mike Hercus, Kevin Dalzell; Mike MacDonald, Kirk Khasigian, Dan Dorsey, Alec Parker, Luke Gross, Kort Schubert, David Hodges (captain), Dan Lyle

Reserves: Matt Wyatt, Jacob Waasdorp, Gerhard Klerck, Jurie Gouws, Matt Sherman, Jason Keyter, Mose Timoteo

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