Lyle ready to face England as Eagles take turn in spotlight

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The Independent Online

Bath's Dan Lyle has declared himself fit for the "most significant" day in United States rugby history. Lyle was a doubt for tomorrow's Test with England after suffering a cheekbone fracture in the Pacific Rim tournament defeat by Argentina last month.

However, a specialist has confirmed that Lyle will be at no extra risk if he turns out at Balboa Park at the weekend and he will take his place at No 8 for the first clash the two countries since England won a pre-World Cup Test 108-6 at Twickenham in 1999.

Other familiar faces in the USA Eagles line-up are the captain, Dave Hodges, who plays his club rugby in Wales with Llanelli and the Roma lock Luke Gross, who will join Hodges at Stradey Park next season.

Such is the importance of the fixture that Fox Sports International is televising the game live on its subscription channel throughout the States, the first time they have broadcast a home Eagles match. Battling against the major team sports, such as American football, basketball and ice hockey, the 15-man rugby code is struggling desperately to find a niche.

"Our whole budget for the year is around £1.5m," Scott Compton said. "We have a few sponsors and have benefited greatly from a 10-year investment from BSkyB. But it is a vicious circle: if you are not successful, the major companies will not put any money in."

But merely having Clive Woodward's side in the country has done much to raise the profile of the sport. "We have a player base of around 35,000 once you have taken out college and women's teams," Compton said. "The development work is slow but we are now starting to see players coming out of colleges who have already achieved a decent standard in the game. If we are going to compete at any decent level, we have to get people playing the game earlier."

An example of the development programme is the 20-year-old prop Mike MacDonald, a former Greco-wrestler, who is widely predicted to follow Lyle's path to England when he leaves full-time education in two years' time. "We are not trying to compete with gridiron, we are just trying to establish a market," said Compton, a native New Zealander.

"If we could just get one per cent of the population involved, it would amount to 2.7 million, which is more people than live in the whole of New Zealand."

USA (v England, San Francisco, tomorrow): K Shuman (New York); J Naqica (Denver), P Eloff (Chicago), J Grobler (Aspen), J Naivalu (San Jose); G Wells (Golden Gate), K Dalzell (Montferrand); M MacDonald (UC Berkeley), K Khasigian (Sacramento), P Still (Golden Gate), L Gross (Roma), P Farner (Roma), D Hodges (Llanelli, capt), K Schubert (UC Berkeley), D Lyle (Bath). Replacements: R Flynn (Golden Gate), A McGarry (Chicago), O Fifita (Hayward Old Blues), A Magleby (Silverdale, NZ), K Kjar (BYU), L Wilfley (Wests, Aus), M Timoteo (Hayward Old Blues).

ENGLAND: J Lewsey (Wasps); L Lloyd (Leicester), F Waters (Wasps) J Noon (Newcastle), M Stephenson (Newcastle); D Walder (Newcastle), K Bracken (Saracens, capt); G Rowntree (Leicester), D West (Leicester), J White (Saracens), S Shaw (Wasps), S Borthwick (Bath), S White-Cooper (Harlequins), L Moody (Leicester), J Worsley (Wasps). Replacements: A Long (Bath), D Flatman (Saracens), T Palmer (Leeds), P Sanderson (Harlequins), M Wood (Wasps), O Barkley (Bath), T Voyce (Bath).