Rugby World Cup: US journeyman prop Eric Fry hopes to return to France with pride

Fry, 32, plays his club rugby at French second-division side RC Vannes

US prop Eric Fry  looks up during the Captain's Run training session at Kobe Misaki Stadium in Kobe on September 25, 2019, on the eve of their Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool C match against England. / AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE
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Much-travelled prop Eric Fry may pack down with a bit more vigour when the United States meet France in Fukuoka on Wednesday, hoping to look his French club teammates in the eye when he returns to Vannes after the Rugby World Cup.

Like many Americans, the 32-year-old Californian has had to cross the globe to pursue his passion due to the paucity of options for domestic players until the recent establishment of Major League Rugby.

The winding road has included stints in Las Vegas, New Zealand and England, and a brush with a bankrupt French club before settling in Brittany with RC Vannes, who compete in France's second division.

His clubmates are certain to be glued to the screen when three-time finalists France meet the Eagles at Hakatanomori Stadium, and Fry hopes to leave an impression as the US look to bounce back from last week's 45-7 thrashing by England.

"It’s a very special game for me," he told reporters at the stadium on Tuesday.

"In the last three years in France, I’ve been immersed in the culture there and it’s exciting to play against the country that I’ve been playing in.

"So I know definitely, going back in three or four weeks, I want to be able to look those guys in the eyes and show them I gave everything I got."

While Fry's time with English clubs London Scottish and Newcastle Falcons gave him a taste of northern hemisphere rugby, France has been a new level of immersion.

His first French club in Saint-Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire river collapsed soon after he arrived and he was fortunate that an injury opened up a spot at Vannes in 2016.

It took a while to adjust, he said.

"When I moved to France I didn’t speak any French and that change was quite difficult at first.

"I mean, especially in Bretagne [Brittany], they even threw in the Breton language a bit for our line-out calls and some other calls.

"It was almost a little bit [of] third language in there which made it even more difficult. But I think I adapted well."

France, who weathered a huge fightback to pip Argentina 23-21 in their opener, have changed their whole pack for the Eagles, meaning Fry and the American forwards may have their hands full against Les Bleus' fresh legs.

Few can see a Japan-style upset on the cards in Fukuoka but the Americans believe they can give the French a shake.

"Definitely they’re a great team but we’re a competitive team, too," said the big-bearded Fry.

"If we’re firing we’ll give them a very competitive match.

"If they show up like they did [against Argentina] in the second half, then they’re vulnerable."