Yesterday I joined the Rusters in Nice as I had a ticket for Toulon v Toulouse, two of the powerhouses of French rugby.
So much so that the match is played in the Orange Velodrome Stadium of Olympique Marseilles and attracted a sell out crowd of 64,580.
I was saddened that Toulouse chose to rest the great Andre Dupont and Romain Ntamack, their international pairing at scrum half and fly half. Nonetheless there was impressive talent on view: Eben Etzibeth, the South African Rugby World Cup winner, at lock, Sergio Parissi at number eight, international Jean Baptiste le Gros (prop) and fellow bleu Gabim Villiere (winger) – all in the red colours of Toulon.
It proved to be an attritional, not beautiful, match of tactical kicking – more in the style of Handre Pollard and Rob Andrew than Marcus Smith – in which Villiere scored the only try.
The other points came from the boot of Toulon’s fly half Carbonel and his opposite number Ramos.
There was a charged atmosphere in the superb stadium. Toulon fans were in the majority but Stade Toulouse well represented.
I was surprised how much beer was drunk and how inebriated the crowd round me were.
One supporter brought a whole tray of beers, slipped and the beer went everywhere including over me.
The match though attritional was closely fought. Toulouse led at one stage 12-6, but Toulon fought back to run out eventual winners.
The magnificent stadium with an undulating roof and steeped bank of seats befits Olympique Marseilles (OM).
They once had an incredible team – with Jean Papin, Chris Waddle, Alan Boksic, Enzo Francescoli and Basil Boli – beating AC Milan in the European Cup Final, but bribery -which incriminated their President Bernard Tapie – led to their decline.
They are currently second to PSG but don’t possess their riches.
Like at most modern stadia, the egress was terrible.
One moved slowly along a concourse till the crowd coming towards you was so numerous that you had to go back into the stadium.
American stadia have walkways on each corner to make this exiting much easier.
Nonetheless it was a hell of an experience.