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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
Form guide: USA
Conrad Hodgson feels the effects of taking on Canada
Conrad Hodgson bore the brunt of Canada's force
Spain, Japan, Canada, Argentina and an England XV all lined up as the USA's opposition during their build-up to the 2003 World Cup.

Only the English and the Argentines proved an obstacle too far for America.

Aside from slipping up to what was effectively Clive Woodward's second-string XV, coach Tom Billups goes into the tournament with a morale-boosted squad.

First up in 2003 was the challenge of qualifying for the trip down under with a play-off against Spain.

But the Spanish, who reached the showpiece tournament four years ago, provided few problems for the Eagles, who ended the two legs 121-26 up overall.

The pressure was on from the outset of the first game with both teams vying for the final qualifying spot for the World Cup, but the contest was essentially over as Spain capitulated on home soil.

The result ensured the USA's place in Pool B with France, Scotland, Fiji and Japan and was followed by two more important wins.

They gained a psychological advantage over Japan, ahead of their World Cup meeting, with an overwhelming 69-27 victory in the inaugural Super Powers Cup.

Full-back Link Wilfley picked up a brace of tries while centre Kain Cross grabbed a hat-trick.

FORM IN 2003
12 Apr: Spain 13-63 USA
17 May: USA 69-27 Japan
18 Jun: Canada 11-16 USA
23 Aug: USA 8-42 Argentina
27 Aug: USA 35-20 Canada
30 Aug: USA 31-17 Uruguay
And they followed that win with what proved to be their most competitive international of the year, coming out 16-11 winners over Canada in the Churchill Cup.

Wilfley was the star again for the Americans, scoring a total of 11 points and Phil Eloff crossing for the vital winning try.

They failed to build on that win with two successive heavy defeats to an England XV.

Another followed when the USA's Pan-American Championship bid got off to a poor start when they blooded a quartet of new faces.

One of them, Richard Liddington, got the Eagles off the mark with a try, but Argentina were soon on top and enjoyed a convincing 42-8 win on home soil.

But pride was instantly restored with wins over Canada and Uruguay in the space of a week.

Fly-half Mike Hercus was in scintillating form for the Eagles against their north American rivals, scoring the games first try and another 15 points from the boot.

Kevin Dalzell, Riaan van Zyl and Dan Dorsey also crossed the Canadian try line.

And the USA finished the tournament in second place after a 31-17 win over Uruguay when Paul Emerick, Eloff and Van Zyl crossed for scores.

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