France put Eagles to sword
October 31, 2003
France centre Brian Liebenberg dives in to score one of his three tries
© Getty Images
Despite fielding what was virtually a second-string team, France has made a clean sweep of their preliminary matches by downing the United States 41-14 Friday night in Wollongong. French outside center Brian Liebenberg stole the show by scoring a hat-trick to help set up the victory.
The five tries to two decision means France has won Pool B and will move on to the quarterfinals next weekend. And even though they went down to a superior French outfit, the US Eagles can be proud of their efforts at this Rugby World Cup where they finished with a credible 1-3 record, although that could easily have been 2-2 had they beaten Fiji.
Even so, the USA also closed out 2003 above .500 with an overall 7-6 record.
Three tries by France in the first half, two by Liebenberg and another to prop Jean Baptiste Poux, combined with four goals to flyhalf Gerald Merceron, laid the platform for the win for Les Bleus who were up 26-0 at halftime.
The French were dominant in the scrum, even though their pack was outweighed by a hefty 160 pounds. For the US, again their defense was one of the highlights of their game, as it has been throughout this Rugby World Cup, and it had to be as they were tested by some dazzling footwork by the French backs.
The Americans came out all fired up in the second half and punched in a couple of converted tries early on to make a game of it. The first was scored by flanker Kort Schubert, his third of the tournament. It followed a sustained build up by the Eagles, and again flyhalf Mike Hercus was the maestro. He timed the final pass perfectly from five meters out to send Schubert in untouched.
The French hit back almost immediately though when Liebenberg crossed for his third try, but the USA wasn't daunted and strung together multiple phase possessions to get back into French territory where Hercus muscled his way over the line close to the posts.
Hercus converted his own touchdown, but Les Bleus said anything you can do, I can do better, and they crashed in for their fifth try when hooker and stand-in captain Yannick Bru dotted down beside the posts from close range.
That made the score 38-14 to France with around 35 minutes remaining. Play went back and forth for the next stanza, until the French edged further ahead when scrumhalf Dmitri Yachvili dropped a nicely weighted goal from about 30 meters out to increase his team's lead to 41-14.
American head coach Tom Billups then rang the changes in order to give all of his players some game time and Hercus was replaced by All-American Matt Sherman in the 74th minute. With his nine points on the night, Hercus became the highest US point-scorer in one season by amassing 141 points in 2003. The previous record of 133 was set in 1996 by Matt Alexander.
French flanker Sebastien Chabal was yellow carded at the 75th minute mark for repeated infringements at the ruck, but that was pretty much all she wrote. The Americans had finished with a flurry, although it was too little too late and time expired.
"It was my first try for the French team, but I'm just happy with the win," noted French skipper Yannick Bru.
"We came out pretty well in the second half and I'm proud of the boys' performance," said USA captain Dave Hodges.
France: 41 Tries: Liebenberg (3), Poux, Bru Con: Liebenberg, Merceron Pen: Merceron (4)
USA: 14 Tries: Schubert, Hercus Con: Hercus
Referee: Paul Honiss (NZ)
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