Tour Diary: Cinq Bières S’il Vous Plait

Given that our last set of Tour Diaries were based on the disaster that was England’s Rugby World Cup campaign, documented by a ‘hard-working’ Hutch in New Zealand, it’s nice to write about one which was a great success. Over the last weekend I set off with family and friends to Argentuil in the Paris suburbs to see London Irish take on Racing Métro 92.

The solid 5:30am wake up, which was required to drive down to Folkestone for the Channel Tunnel crossing proved bearable, with the ensuing drive to Paris meaning we arrived around 1pm French time. Driving to France made a nice change to proceedings, and meant that unlike last year where we ended up stuck in Nice (not exactly hell on earth) due to the intense snow back in the UK curtailing all flying operations, this time there were no such dramas. Well, apart from ending up briefly visiting Terminal 2 at Charles de Gaulle airport when searching for the A16… but I digress.

Ultimately, the first few hours proved to be successful as we overcame many potential obstacles. The first being that the hotel appeared to be a replica of Hull University’s halls of residence, but on the inside was formidable. The next was eating at a restaurant where after stumbling around with the French conditional verb the Maître’D headed to light the fire under the oven in the kitchen. Never a good sign, but the Steak Haché took no lives.

Arguably the best part of any away trip is the anticipation on walking to the ground, especially in France where you brace yourself for the local hostility/hospitality. This was amped by almost a sea of green outside the Cafe du Stade, where London Irish fans either had the opportunity to watch Treviso pull off a memorable victory against Biarritz, or witness the car-towing championships on the pavement opposite, as the local towers spent an entertaining half an hour trying to remove a SmartCar that was geniusly positioned between a tree and a lamp post. The SmartCar lost.

The Stade Yves du Manoir has just an east and west stand, giving that old-school Rugby ground feel that you do not get at the Madejski Stadium. Racing edged ahead at half-time after a tight first half, in which Irish managed to lose Dan Bowden and Chris Hala’ufia within the opening half hour. Not to worry though, because after a scintillating try from Sireli Bobo, Racing scored no more points. Replacement fly-half Adrian Jarvis stepped up with a neat grubber kick for Jonathan Spratt’s opening try, whilst Irish’s forwards worked tirelessly.

The second half saw the visitors score 24 unanswered points, including a brace for Adam Thompstone and a superb finish by Joe Ansbro, much to my own personal delight and leaving the local fans pretty disgusted. Their players seemed to feel the same, as after Irish’s two try blitz within three minutes, the home team gave up.

Five points for Irish, followed by running on to the pitch to congratulate the squad in their huddle and witnessing a fine grin on Mike Catt’s face, and the mission was accomplished. Matt Garvey and Jamie Gibson, two young forwards who cannot be ignored much longer by the England set-up, really excelled.

Followed up by a neverending supply of red wine was dinner by the Arc de Triomphe, which certainly tasted sweeter after a win. The various permutations as to whether Irish could potentially qualify were visited and re-visited seemingly all evening. They still were being discussed the next morning, as we set off back home, stopping in the historic town of Amiens on route to Calais. Worth a visit if you’re in the area, especially for it’s impressive cathedral, there was one last, and best, meal to be had at the ominously named “Salmon House”. Forget the name, the food was quality.

From there it was back to Folkestone, and we arrived back with a series of conclusions. Firstly, just because your hotel looks like a breezeblock fantasy doesn’t mean it will be horrendous, even with a business called “Munters” opposite. Secondly, French food is exquisite (if the owner/chef fancies cooking). And finally, London Irish can still qualify from Pool Two. Five points against Racing this weekend, and winning at home against Cardiff, could see them progress.

by Ben Coles