Holy feckin’ Dog! I was expecting a warm welcome once we got to Biarritz, but to see that they had brought weather straight from our own Achill Island was a joy to behold. Or at least it was whilst I was indoors. In a pub.
After a quick yomp through the sodden streets of Biarritz, and one or two pints in our bellies, we bowled up to the Parc des Sports Aguilera around an hour before the match to imbibe the atmosphere and, erm, the beer too. We got a fantastic welcome, with the Basque band pelting out The Fields of Athenry and the two hundred or so Connacht fans getting stuck into it by singing along and responding with The Fields of Athenry. We may be a lyrical bunch in the West, but jeebers, we’re not good at remembering songs. A few mulled wines, a couple of local ciders and we were ready to get into the stands. Rumours were that Connacht asked for the game to be postponed due to the climatic conditions but were flatly refused. Further rumours implicated Sky in the refusal. Feck you, Rooooopert, you Oz-American octogenarian ballbag.
And so to the match. Into Tribune Serge Blanco we trudged, and what I had thought of as perfect tickets turned into what can only be described as a ballache of epic proportions. We realised that, being in the front row, we were completely open to the elements. I would have been better off wearing a wet suit. I’m still wringing out my socks now.
And so it proved – Yachvilli giving a masterclass in the swamp, the Biarritz forwards playing a far more savvy game in the tight, ably aided and abetted by Connacht’s ability to spill the ball in almost any circumstance. I exchanged a brief bit of WORLD CLASS BANTER with Iain Balshaw. “Yer were shite for England!”, I bellowed at him. He responded with a shooshing gesture, and, two minutes later, he was in over in the left hand corner for a try.
That shut me up. The Yach conversion made it 10-0, and you could tell that this was not our night.
The most feckin’ frustrating thing, though, was the fact that we challenged well in the second half, put Biarritz under lots of pressure – to the point where they conceded two yellow cards – but we could not do anything with ball in hand, and, when Parks put boot to ball, he was unerringly inaccurate and too short. Every time he kicked, it came back with interest and Biarritz made thirty or forty metre gains. All our pressure yielded only one penalty, Parks kicking to the right and wide.
That was the story of the night for us, lots of puff and plenty of grind, but the wrong ideas and even worse execution. The night was summed up when Seremaia Burotu went over for the Basques in the last minute after a bit of a fortuitous grubber from Damian “Slow As A Trainful Of Shit” Traille. Yach made a peach of a touchline conversion and our losing bonus point disappeared into the sideways rain.
Match finished, many handshakes and warm commiserations from our hosts and a few more mulled wines, then we headed for the Red Café, Biarritz’s rugby pub. Several more pints and talking utter drivel to some locals, and I was a happy Claw. An even happier one when all the Connacht players showed up and I got to chat to several of them including Ronan Loughney, our tighthead and an utter gentleman. We discussed the departure of Mike McCarthy and the rumours Ronan had heard about his replacement – apparently someone from the Premiership – and his hopes for the rest of the HEC.
A good night, despite the result, and a seriously sore head in the morning, but thanks to flair – our resident French BTLer -and his top tips for nightlife in Bayonne, evening number two was just as successful, and I got nearly as plastered as Chek on the night bus home.
Great weekend all round. Roll on Munster next week.