with Mike Thomas, Sorede.
Thursday 9th August 2018
USAP 21 – STADE TOULOUSAIN 19
Taking into consideration the ferocity of the tackling, rucking and one ‘humdinger’ of a punch up, it would be positively libellous to refer to this pre season match as a “friendly”. This was ideal preparation for the Super Quatorze Season and it is a delight to see USAP back in the big time after four years of purgatory!
Early signs were not good. Despite USAP’s domination Stade Toulousain broke away and scored what appeared to be a “soft” try in the ninth minute to go 7 points up. Outside-half Holmes tore through a gap like a “rat up a drainpipe”.
The USAP pack then took full control. Their scrum was totally dominant and this enabled barnstorming No.8 Lemalu to punch holes in the Toulouse defence and set up opportunities for his Team Mates. Paddy Jackson had a fine debut, working in conjunction with powerful centre Sion Piukala. Tries came before half time through Duguivalu, Piukala and Muller. All were converted by the impressive Jackson and this was crucial in the eventual outcome of the match. He looked to the Manor born.
He had a contented smile on his face when the Laroque Legend Tim McGregor and his friend Wesley led a rendition of “Stand up for the Ulster Men”.
Stade Toulousain battled their way back in the second half with 2 further tries. Having said that, USAP were the better team on the night and deserved their win. With Jackson running things the future looks bright for the boys in Sang et Or.
USAP have another preparation match against Racing de Paris on Thursday 16th August, before their first League Fixture against Stade Francais on Saturday 25th August.
Rugby is a massive part of the P O culture, but where did the game originate, how did it evolve and why is it so popular here?
The most widely held view is that rugby started in Rugby School in 1823 when a senior pupil “with a fine disregard for the rules of football, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it”. The game spread rapidly throughout Public Schools and English Rugby Union was formed in 1871.
Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games was a great admirer of the “never say die” ethos of English Public Schools and was a major influence in the setting up of the first two rugby clubs in France in the 1880s. Liberally sprinkled with aristocratic family names, it was clearly a game for the ‘upper crust’.
In the 1890’s, rugby spread like wild fire into the provinces, in particular throughout the south West, from Bordeaux and Biarritz up through the Basque lands and then to Pau, Lourdes, Carcassonne and into North Catalonia, mainly through the involvement of ex pats.
Our much loved local team USAP – United Sportive Arlequins Perpignanais was set up in 1902. Note the Arlequins, clearly a link with the prestigious Harlequins from London.
At this time ‘rugby de villages’’ took root and during the early 20th century many local clubs were set up. Ceret, Argeles, Thuir, Prades, Port Vendres, Collioure, Millas, have all produced teams that have achieved success at National Level. Intense local rivalries developed and continue to this day and it is well worth the small entrance fee to go to the picturesque stadium in Céret (opposite the Lycée) to watch a local match with Argelès, both for the game and a bit of interesting people watching!
Rugby League is also an English invention. In the late 1890’s, when clubs in the North of England wanted to pay players who took time off from work to play, Rugby Union was horrified. The Northern Rugby Football League was formed at the George Hotel, Huddersfield in August 1895, in an attempt to make the game more attractive to the spectator. It was imported into France in the 1930’s.
The Catalan Dragons play in the Super League along with 13 English clubs, 12 from the North and one from London. They play in Perpignan at the Stade Gilbert Brutus, a stone’s throw from USAPs home, the Aimé Giral. A strong Catalan identity is evident in both stadiums. The passion and commitment of both sets of fans is clear, but one is also aware of a family atmosphere and for all of the noise and excitement there is never any trouble.
A foreign influence in the French game continues to be a major factor.
At the Dragons, the Scot, Ian Henderson, and former Leicester Tiger Leon Pryce are popular amongst the fans. Australians abound and Scott Dureau and Steve Menzies are ever present on the team sheet.
The Union game in France is becoming extremely attractive to British, Kiwi, and South African players partly because salaries are higher here and because they love the lifestyle and climate. Johnnie Wilkinson was European player of the year last year with Toulon, and star players with USAP include Englishman Luke Narraway, Scotsman Alistair Strokosch and the two Welshmen James Hook and Luke Charteris.
Many British and Irish frequent the matches and, dare I say it, many of us are as passionate about the ‘Drags’ and USAP as are the Catalans.
Rugby is a great game. Get down to the Gilbert Brutus or Aimé Giral stadium or your local rugby club and you will see what I mean.