This is the first time that I’ve put pen to paper to write for Pink Rugby. It’s an exciting prospect being able to share my thoughts and experiences with a wider audience. I thought that for this first attempt, I’d set the scene and introduce myself.
My special interest is the XV de France along with the Top 14 teams of Stade Toulousain and Clermont Auvergne. You would be forgiven for thinking that I’m French, but I am , in fact, from Manchester. I did however, spend over 12 years living and working in Paris so know a thing or two about the French and feel like an adopted daughter. The best years of my adult life so far have been spent on the other side of La Manche so a big piece of my heart is definitely there. I got married in the North of France near to Arras, my daughter was born not too far from Racing Metro in the Region Parisienne ( a bit more central ) and I divorced in Toulon in the south …. another iconic rugby city.
So why rugby and why France? At home from an early age, football and cricket were always on the menu. There was no exposure to rugby, in fact my Dad used to shut legendary commentator Bill Maclaren off most of the time. I do have childhood memories of JPR Williams, Gareth Edwards and Bill Beaumont but thinking back, this is probably because my aunty quite fancied the first and the other two are probably familiar more because they were both captains on A Question of Sport rather than because I followed them on a rugby field.
I became curious, then more interested in rugby in my 30s and my young daughter also started to take an interest and wanted to watch with me. Up until that time she’d not been interested in watching any sport and had completely rejected football. We were able to create a great bond around rugby and watching the XV de France. We’d get to be very patriotic ( since Lana is half French ) and sing along to La Marseillaise before every match, booming out the part that goes “Marchons, Marchons” …. That was our best bit !
Our love of the XV de France was intensified when Lana latched onto her first crush ……. Sebastian Chabal. While other kids had David Beckham or Zac Efron on their walls, Lana chose the French “homme du caverne” Chabal. His flowing locks, impressive facial hair, strength and determination on the pitch, gentle giant persona off it and his “I don’t care what people think of me “ attitude when being interviewed were all contributing factors with her fascination. I love the fact that from such an early age she didn’t conform and was proud to be different … like him. It was great for us to have him at Sale Sharks – easy to pop along for matches, T-shirts and memorabilia.
We followed Laporte’s team religiously and got to love stalwarts such as Rougerie, Bonnaire, Harinordoquy and Dusautoir ….. Imanol is one of my all time favourites and is the most capped player in the present French squad with 77 caps.
We became even more obsessed when Marc Liévremont became coach – my guilty pleasure ! He became even more popular in our eyes when he brought in the likes of Morgan Parra and Maxime Medard. Our interest was so strong that we decided to travel and follow the XV de France instead of being armchair supporters. What a great experience being at a live match at the Stade de France – coq en ze head obligatoire !
We were often frustrated by Liévremont and his constant experimentations led to lots of debate and sometimes argument between us but it only added to our enjoyment.
Once you have got to know and love the individuals in the blue jersey it’s hard to wait another year to see them play. That’s how we got into following the ASM Clermont Auvergne and Stade Toulousain teams. There are an incredible 19 players from these two clubs that went into pre-selection training at Marcoussis last week. 12 from Toulouse and 7 from Clermont. The clubs are sitting 1 and 2 in the French Top 14 and are the pride of French rugby. The forwards coach from Toulouse has even joined the new French manager’s ( Philippe Saint Andre ) coaching staff and PSA himself spent many years at Clermont as a player.
January 2012 has been busy already. We are not long back from my daughter’s birthday weekend in Clermont – spent in the shadow of the magnificent Stade Marcel Michelin. It was a mix of girly roadtrip and rugby pilgrimage. I’d suggest that’s a pretty potent mix ! We travelled from the snow covered mountains around Geneva to the imposing volcanoes in Auvergne. Last weekend we had another important trip and drove the four hours to Gloucester to watch the H Cup qualifier, try and meet the Stade Toulousain boys ( which we did …. can’t believe I’m saying that ! ) and help celebrate their place through to the ¼ finals. It was a disappointing game by their standards and the frustration was palpable. However, it turned into a fantastic night for us especially when they walked into our hotel after the match !
Yesterday I booked another trip back to Clermont and we’ve got our favourite hotel room which overlooks the training ground “bagsed”. Next objective is to sort out tickets to follow Toulouse in Edinburgh and l’ASM in London for the next stage of the H-Cup. Oh, and there is the VI Nations starting in 10 days when France play Italy. So much to look forward to and keep us busy !
So, rugby gives me many hours of pleasure, French rugby is my passion, I’m lucky to follow it real time from the UK via French radio, TV and the web. We even have the chance to follow our heroes on and off the pitch as coverage of such things is a lot more popular in France than in the UK (but that’s a topic for the next time I put pen to paper). There will be so much more to enthuse about in the coming weeks and months and I hope that you’ll be interested enough to want to share it. A la prochaine …