All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Farewell, the animal....

Italy beat France 22 - 21 at the Stadio Flaminio on Saturday in the rugby union Six Nations tournament. They've been underdogs in the Six Nations so long that it is a real pleasure to see them win....especially after the dramatic improvements this season under the guidance of their South African coach.

And particularly nice to see them defeat the French, whose press has been very scathing of the Italian team's right to compete with the old Five Nations teams on performance grounds. (Only the Auld Alliance can explain why there was no mention of Scotland in this respect.)

The whole shebang started well, from the formalities onward....

The Italian national anthem is something else....full of references to the Austrian eagle losing its feathers, Scipio's helmet, and, to anyone brought up on the description of the Italian army as having sunburned armpits (thank you, father), the request made of the brothers of Italy as to the whereabouts of victory does tend to raise a smile.

Still, as it was originally a poem written in the period of Italian reunion and the fight against occupying powers one must expect a bit of floweriness and it makes a change from the Marseillaise, with foreign blood running in the furrows and that sad dirge 'Flower of Scotland'.

France dominated early, but fell to pieces in the second half as the brothers of Italy not only resisted but fought.....and found victory.
The French coach later accused his men of cowardice and incompetence and it's just as well that, unlike the armies of the early years of the French republic, he had not brought a travelling guillotine with him as a means of inducing fervour in the ranks as otherwise heads might have literally been rolling.

Which brings us to the animal.
Rugby Worldcup 2007.Image by abac077 via Flickr

No, not the fox that was loose at Twickenham for the Calcutta Cup match, but the real animal, the cave man,

Sebastien Chabal.

Not a pretty sight, it has to be said, but one which has reassured French rugby fans for years as the bearded, long haired figure came off the bench to spread mayhem among the opponents by the speed and aggression of his tackling.

I remember him tearing into England in the preliminary rounds of the 2007 World Cup, held in France, where the night skies around me in the depths of rural France resounded to raucous, triumphant renderings of the Marseillaise, foreign blood having been flowing well in the furrow on that occasion.

Even then his wind seemed to be going....he was finding it hard to get through a whole match...but when he came on, both team and crowd picked up their spirits....the cave man had arrived and the tide would turn for France.

While I am sure he is a model family man and probably, being a French professional sportsman, reads philosophy and writes poetry in what time he can spare between tearing carcasses apart and throwing tractors, it has to be said that I don't think I'd appreciate him galloping toward me like a human version of the juggernaut on the field of play....and a number of rugby union players have clearly been of the same opinion.
Thus his value to France.

But I think he lost his magic in that World Cup series of 2007.
First, France lost to England in the semi finals....and his shock and disbelief was palpable.
Night skies around me in rural France decidedly quiet.

Then Argentina beat France in the play off for third place...and showed the rugby world how to counter Chabal.
He had come off the bench, and the crowd roared its approval. His colleagues picked themselves up...their morale was boosted...the wonder worker was there.
Then Argentina made a substitution too....and onto the field trotted a mammoth, the personification of a brick shithouse. An ambulatory one.
Play restarted. Chabal had the ball and the brick shithouse went straight for him, picked him up as though he were featherlight and slammed him into the ground.
The brick shithouse was sent off.....but his purpose had been accomplished. Chabal was a spent force, unable to prevent his team going down to a mighty defeat.
I don't think he has ever been the same player since.

However, he has been a good servant to French rugby and it is sad to see him in the tumbril with the other five players dropped by the French coach for the last match in the tournament....and perhaps for good.

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  1. I have no love for Rugby for we played it at school and I was a wilting pansy compared to the testosterone bulldozers of my peers and thus stood not a chance. I am however sniggering at "the description of the Italian army as having sunburned armpits". I thought it was just my granddad who came out with that.

  2. Steve, no, it's no fun when you hate a sport.
    I hated hockey...anchored in the goal with heavy boots and pads in biting wind to make sure I couldn't sidle off unnoticed...

    I think my father would have been older than your grandfather...but both would have been aware of the Italian army's less than glorious reputation in the Second World War...and you know there's nothing PC about my blogging activities...

  3. Italy deserved to win, the French played like a team that were not really interested; putting it politely! I would have loved the French to win but..... Diane

  4. Diane, I agree. Italy have been promising this season...and finally fulfilled it.

    I don't know what has got into the French's like their soccer team in the World Cup in South Africa..

    Is it arrogance, or is it a feeling that they're indispensable?

    Their coach is going to have his hands full trying to get a squad together for the World Cup!

  5. I love your caustic perceptive posts. keep up the good work! Mixed feelings re france as mother in law is French!

  6. Ken, thank you very much!
    Yes, having a French MIL might well give rise to mixed feelings....perhaps she'd do a better job in the front row than the current lot, though.

  7. Surely the French weren't so arrogant as to believe they could slaughter the Italians? How out of character...

    I wasn't cheering either team because the French have croissant and the Italians have pizza. It's a tie in my book.

  8. Sarah, no, one can't believe that they would be arrogant, can one?

    I'm just wondering whatever Scotland can do to pick up their game...apart from coming on the field armed, that is.

  9. Now why did I know you’d trumpet that final score Fly? Even though I only came into the match at the final whistle. A bakers dozen it was then for the Italian brotherhood, and not a happy night for frogs in Rome.

    I come from a rugby clan. My Dad and all my Uncles all played for Dagenham and other Essex teams. It was a religion, that was passed down to me and one that I mostly enjoyed. Until one cold and wintry day when ‘Chabals’ old man ran over me, while I was the last man standing between him and the touch line.

    When I came round, two days later in hospital, all my Dad could say was “Well done my son, you broke his little finger and stopped him from scoring a try”.

    None of which I could remember what so ever. Last thing I recall as I stared blinded into the fierce glare of the low winter sun, was a lot of desperate shouting and the rapidly approaching pounding and puffing sounds of this charging bull of a man. Couldn’t see him at all. Even at the precise nano moment it all went dark… just as he hit me.

    My testicles didn’t drop out to jingle again until about this time last year.

    As for that other match the very next day. Keelts 16 – Onglets 22. Phew! As well as the case of the fox, the frog ref and his sacrificial calf. And why can you never find a pack of hounds when you need them! And how come Zoey’s ‘bit of ruff’ got to go up and get the pot from his mother in law in waiting then? What was that all about?

  10. Phil, at least you were not enterred under a layer of Dagfirt..or was that before your time?

  11. Just as long as Scotland and Wales get beaten by England. If France comes second that's OK. Thank God that it's only Ireland that plays cricket.

  12. Lesley, The French coach reckoned his long term plans were for the World Cup, so what happened along the way didn't matter....this was before Italy beat them!
    Sounds like one of Baldrick's cunning plans to me.

  13. Fly, here at River Cottage we laughed, and laughed and laughed at the 'mighty' French being given a fairly comprehensive drubbing by Italy. It was divine retribution for their previous arrogance for sure.

    I have to admit that Chabal is my secret pleasure. He reminds me of an ex-boyfriend of mine who first got me interested in rugby - he played hooker for the county. Despite his hugeness he's so softly spoken and I love the story about his hair. When he moved to the UK to play for Sale Sharks (where they nicknamed him Seabass) he was too embarrassed to go to the hairdresser because his English was so poor so he let his hair grow and then it became his trademark. When he lived in Manchester he drove a Smart Car. God only knows how he got in it!

    He was to the French team what Laurence 'The General' Dallaglio was to the England team and I'm sorry he hasn't made the squad for the last game but everyone has their day and I guess he has had his.

    Note to Phil: Mike Tindall is the England Captain so that's how come he went up to receive the Calcutta Cup from his MIL to be.

  14. It seems to me good that Italy won. Not because I care that much or like one more than the other - but because it makes for better tournament if one of the nations isn't always regarded as a push over.

    I remember when the five nations tournament became six - it has taken time but perhaps by beating France that idea is actually coming to pass

  15. Wylye Girl, Italy came so close to being good in their previous games that it was great to see them hold their nerve this time.

    Mark, yes I eternal underdog makes for a poor tournament overall.
    Now for the Scots to raise their game.

  16. I'd have loved to have seen this!

  17. e, one of those matches where you daren't go to the loo in case you missed something...

  18. I briefly got into rugby during the love affair we all had with Johnny Wilkinson but it was a short-lived thing. I don't really do sports apart from the occasional tennis match.

    Can you please delete my second blog from your sidebar - the one near the bottom. Thank you lovely woman


  19. French Fancy...I'd never be a proof reader... until you posted
    I thought I'd deleted it! mother at 95 is fanatic...she can tell me about the Costa Rican league...but I'm selective.
    Cricket and Rugby..that's it.

  20. ♥Love your blog♥