The Rugby World Cup is a two-month lengthy pageant of the sport that can criss-cross France earlier than converging on Paris for the ultimate on Saturday 28 October.
Many followers, particularly those that have travelled from the southern hemisphere, will take the chance to soak up a few matches and benefit from the tradition of France. So to get the total expertise, I set myself a problem: go to 4 completely different French cities in 4 days and watch as many rugby matches as I might, with out ever getting behind the wheel of a automobile.
Day 1 – Paris to Lille, France vs Uruguay
I’ve ready for at present’s journey by writing one thing in-depth about crimson and yellow playing cards and rewarding myself by ensuring Paris nonetheless does an excellent bottle of crimson wine (it does).
As such, I’m a bit bleary-eyed as I get on the metro, and fail to spot that the two line is “disrupté”. I get so far as Pigalle earlier than having to speed-walk previous the Moulin Rouge and down Boulevard de Clichy, a spot I’ve by no means seen in sunlight hours. It’s a bit extra nice this facet of 6pm.
Anyway, I make it to Gare du Nord in time for a Pink Bull and a croissant earlier than boarding a 17-car, double-decker prepare. Now, to not bore you about trains, however they use a wider gauge in Europe meaning the trains themselves are wider, and a thousand occasions extra snug too. They’re fast too; a neat tracker on the (free and dependable) WiFi hub tells me we’re doing virtually 200 miles an hour at our quickest, which helps us full a journey the equal of London to Cardiff in simply 67 minutes.
The prepare isn’t solely France followers, however there are a lot already exhibiting their colors and there are nonetheless 10 hours till kick-off. In England, I’d worry for his or her means to drink all through. What’s the French for “stamina”? (I imagine it’s “moderation”.)
By 7pm, I realise I’ve underestimated the French propensity to binge drink. The concourse exterior the Stade Pierre Mauroy is rammed with followers in cockerel hats or berets and Le Tricolore painted on their faces, signing La Pena Baiona, an anthem sung by followers of Prime 14 facet Bayonne however that has been adopted by rugby followers throughout France. Few appear to know all of the phrases, or in the event that they did at noon, have lengthy forgotten them.
Attending to Lille was high quality – getting dinner as soon as I received there was a problem (Picture: i)
The environment contained in the stadium is equally riotous, and the revised accompaniment for Le Marseillaise goes down a storm. (Event organisers had been hammered within the first week for the butchered variations of the anthems that had been being utilized in stadiums.)
The rugby is thrilling too, albeit scrappy. A French second XV give the passionate Uruguayans far too many possibilities and there was solely a degree in it with 25 minutes to go, however the house facet do bag two extra tries to win 27-12.
Within the press convention, Uruguay captain Andres Vilaseca tells the world his nation have proven they will maintain their very own with one of the best, and so they deserve to take action extra typically. He’s proper; they’ve performed only one tier-one nation in 4 years.
On the metro again into city, slurring French followers inform me it was disagreeable to observe. I level it was a “very French” effort to comply with up beating the All Blacks with a shock defeat, and so they snigger. “We play rugby the English manner now,” they retort, a reference to their weighting ahead pack and skill to grind out wins.
Day 2 – Lille to Paris
A beneficiant 12pm check-out time permits me an off-the-cuff morning after getting again at 2am, and I interview former England scrum-half Matt Dawson within the resort foyer on Zoom. He tells me from Saracens RFC, the place he’s working with the Nationwide Lottery, to “dry my eyes” after I complain a couple of late end, clearly nonetheless a giant rugby fan jealous of my gig. We discuss concerning the Ford-Farrell England debate and the gifted Alex Mitchell carrying his outdated No 9 shirt. I promise to purchase him a beer in Good.
Having hot-footed to the station, I get a name from Paul Gustard, previously one of many England coaches and now working the defence at Stade Francais. I wished to speak to him about teaching the deal with top – head pictures are the important thing theme of the Rugby World Cup to date – however we had not been capable of join earlier within the week. So now I discover myself doing an interview in, bizarrely, a Westfield purchasing centre subsequent to Lille station. We additionally discuss concerning the sport final evening and what Lille is like: he’s going to carry his son right here for England vs Chile subsequent week, and I inform him to ensure he will get up there early as a result of it’s solely a bit metro and there have been lots of people on it.
The prepare again to Paris is a bit older than the double-decker from yesterday however nonetheless spacious sufficient: the primary frustration is forgetting that the switch from Gare du Nord to the No 2 line in Paris is a very lengthy stroll and it’s nonetheless baking scorching.
I return to my apart-hotel and ship my Dawson interview again to England earlier than taking the night off. A pizza, some vin rouge and a pair of ageing rockers taking part in 70s hits in a tiny bar known as La Grange, named after a ZZ Prime tune, are my leisure.
Day 3 – Paris to Nantes, Eire vs Tonga
Montparnasse is extra maze and purchasing centre than prepare station (Picture: i)
I’m nonetheless buzzing a wonderful model of Stand By Me from the evening earlier than as I fold myself onto the metro and head to Paris Montparnasse. Gare du Nord is technically Europe’s busiest prepare station, with almost 300 million passengers within the final yr earlier than the pandemic, whereas Montparnasse handles barely a fifth of that.
But Paris’s fourth busiest prepare station should be probably the most complicated, with 4 completely different departure halls every situated in several corners of a labyrinthine purchasing centre. Additionally they function that infuriating system the place the platform of departure is a state secret till 4 minutes earlier than the prepare leaves, inflicting a mass rush to the prepare that feels totally avoidable.
Anyway we make it to Nantes, France’s sixth largest metropolis with almost 1,000,000 folks dwelling within the space. Few of them although are rugby followers. Stade Nantais, often known as The Elephants, compete in Federale 1, France’s fifth tier, and the World Cup stadium is the soccer floor, Stade de la Beaujolaire house to FC Nantes, who play in inexperienced and yellow. There’s a lot much less yellow than inexperienced on the town, as a result of Nantes has been taken over by the emerald wave.
Formally, there are 9,000 Irish followers with tickets for the sport, however the proof of my eyes is that there are much more. Positive sufficient, gamers after the 59-16, eight-try win over Tonga describe it as like a house sport for the boys in inexperienced. The anthem is spine-tingling, the efficiency expectedly sensible and Tonga are effectively overwhelmed. Nantes resounds effectively into the evening with “The Fields of Athenry” and the ever-present Pena Baiona.
Day 4 – Nantes to Good, England vs Japan
I spend the morning on the Marche de Talensac, the precise sort of market you anticipate finding in each French city, full with overly acquainted butchers, rushed-off-their-feet bakers and incomprehensible greengrocers. I seize a pastry and discover a native cafe during which to jot down my follow-up, the place there’s a couple consuming oysters, from the market, with a bottle of Chardonnay. At 11am. What a life.
What number of other ways are you able to promote hen? (Picture: i)
Usually, my first journey hitch on this voyage comes when I’m pressured to take a flight. There isn’t a different option to make it from Nantes to Good on Sunday and whereas my bus to the airport is ok, I discover myself watching the minutes tick by previous our scheduled time in a small departure lounge jam-packed with hungover Eire followers ready on an Easyjet remedy.
I busy myself by analyzing downloaded footage of Eire’s tries from final evening and pretending I’m Rassie Erasmus, plotting find out how to shut down Sexton and co. The sight of deputy No 8 Caelan Doris charging into contact and common starter Jack Conan stalking the touchline, itching to get again to full health, would fill me with dread had been I planning to take the Irish on subsequent Saturday.
A shocking quantity are becoming a member of me on the south coast for England’s conflict with Japan, and as soon as we do lastly board it makes for a really quiet flight as row after row succumbs to “the nods” – however as soon as everybody has woken up once more the rose begins flowing and the pre-match pleasure is nascent as soon as once more. The six blokes behind me disgrace my endeavours by revealing they had been in Toulouse on Friday as effectively and are heading to their fourth sport of the weekend. Honest play, chaps. I hope you gave sleepy Dave his different shoe again.
My flight lands about 40 minutes late and I’ve a decent turnaround to make the match. An eight-minute taxi from Good airport prices me an eye-watering 40 Euros – “it’s as a result of it’s Sunday,” is the road the opportunistic driver spins me after I puff my cheeks out – and I examine into the resort as shortly as potential to overlook the rip-off.
Sundown in Good was virtually well worth the Easyjet flight (Picture: i)
I’m a visitor of Asahi this night, the official beer of the Rugby World Cup, and my hosts lay on dinner by the seashore, transport, tickets to the massive sport and naturally a few of their product. There’s nothing they will do concerning the swelteringly humid situations although and we go away the stadium about as sweaty as England’s gamers after they labour to a 34-12 victory.
Day 5 – Good to Paris
I end my journey with a prolonged TGV from Good again to Paris, which feels prefer it may be depressing judging by the scrum on the station.
Nonetheless, on the opposite facet of the three digital gates is one other monumental double-decker which might maintain way more folks than Good might ever permit by means of, it appears. As soon as boarded, it’s spacious, air-conditioned and relaxed. The one frustration is there seems to be no cafe and all I’ve is a bag of peanuts, which I resolve to ration for the six-hour journey.
Six hours seems like a very long time, however it’s a great distance: Good to Paris is slightly below 600 miles. There principally isn’t a UK prepare journey I can examine it to as a result of our nation isn’t sufficiently big, however London to Edinburgh is a 400-mile journey and takes 5 hours on an excellent day.
I arrive at Gare de Lyon and am again at my suburban aparthotel with a vin rouge inside 35 minutes, because of Paris’s barely disconcerting (the doorways typically open earlier than the prepare has stopped) however in depth metro system.
So, what have I discovered from my sojourn round western Europe’s largest nation? Firstly, that France’s wide-gauge, double-decker air-conditioned trains are a world other than the transformed coaches and Nineteen Nineties hand-me-downs that crawl across the British community. If I attempted to do that within the UK, I would barely have seen one match, by no means thoughts three.
And secondly, the Olympics are right here subsequent yr. Paris will host a lot of the occasions however the Olympiad may even attain Lille, Nantes, Bordeaux, Marseille and Lyon. There might be loads of issues to complain about – there at all times is at an occasion so mammoth – however the transport won’t be considered one of them.