Monday, April 16, 2012

A Day of Rugby in France

Last Saturday, our friend Thomas (pronounced toe-mah), bought us tickets to a rugby match in Colombes, a commune to the Northwest of Paris. Leïla and I went there with Thomas and his friend Jeremy, a gentleman from Leicester who's lived in France for twenty years and speaks fluent French with a strong English accent — and whose French was easier for me to understand than many French people.

Fantastic seats, 2nd row back.
Rugby, for those who are not familiar with is, is a game similar to American football, played in two halves of 40 minutes each. The players do not wear protective gear and many of the hits they take are brutal. Passing the ball forward is not allowed, so the only way to make ground is to kick the ball forward or run with it. Turnover of possession seems to mostly involve accidentally losing control of the ball and the other team picking it up (hey, I'm not exactly a sports guy). At one point, possession appeared to turn over when an opposing player picked up the ball carrier and carried him out of bounds!

I did enjoy this bit of rugby history:
Rugby football developed from a version of football played at Rugby School and was originally one of several versions of football played at English public schools during the 19th century. 
The game of football that was played at Rugby School between 1750 and 1859 permitted handling of the ball, but players were not allowed to run with it in their hands towards the opposition's goal. With no limit to the number of players per side, hundreds would participate in an enormous rolling maul, sometimes resulting in major injuries.
Frankly, I would have loved to have seen that.

Thomas is a supporter of Racing Métro 92, a Parisian rugby team. They were up against Brive, a team based in Brive-la-Gaillarde in central France.

This made Leïla very happy.
This was an important match for Thomas because apparently, Racing needed to win this to go on the finals (or semi-finals, I wasn't sure). Fortunately, they won decisively, 40-19. Naturally that called for a celebration after.

The players are, in a word, enormous. At one point, a huge, rather buff official ran onto the field and he was dwarfed by many of the players. They do not wear padding and I don't want to think of the pounding they take to leave many of them limping during the game.

After the game, everyone is allowed on the pitch.
I found Rugby very enjoyable. I was at a very minor football (soccer) match outside of London and the crowd was rowdy, ready for a fight and police were everywhere. I almost got into a fight after the football match when I was so fed up with a jerk's racist comments that I turned to his son and told him "your life doesn't have to be like this". Not one of my smarter moments, but there was no way I could keep my mouth shut.

And players pose for pictures with their fans.
Rugby, despite its reputation for brutality and aggression (one man wore a shirt which said "Rugby: Men. Soccer: Women."), was very civilized. No matter which team someone supported, people applauded good plays, particularly if a team scored a try (a goal). In fact, the only time I heard anything negative was the crowd booing at one player taking a cheap shot at another (my video of the fight after wasn't very clear).

Leïla, Thomas and Jeremy.
After the match was over, everyone was allowed on the pitch and many players stayed behind to greet their fans and pose for photographs. There were children everywhere and there were no signs of the hostility I saw at football matches. We're going to have to do this again.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end.
On a more personal note, something's happened to me in the last couple of weeks: my French has improved tremendously. I can actually hold conversations with people now. I still struggle, but I'm not translating in my head and people are very supportive, helping me with words when I get stuck.

All in all, a fabulous weekend.


  1. As the saying goes, rugby is a thugs' game played by gentlemen, football is a gentlemen's game played by thugs. This appears to apply to the fans too.

  2. They say that in NZ, women's refuge shelters are much busier when the All Blacks lose. Whereas the Wellington Phoenix (local soccer team) games have a reputation for being great fun. Perhaps it's a "#2 sport" phenomenon? Your national/regional pride isn't tied up in the sport so you can enjoy the game without getting too worked up by the result.