Posted in match reports

Vue depuis la tribune: La Rochelle 30 Sale 23

At nine o’clock on a cold January evening, heading to Stansted, trying to negotiate the A14 in pelting rain, with a view ahead of you that is basically a black wall of water with a few fuzzy red lights dotted about, you might start to question some of your life choices. I could have stayed at home and watched the game on the telly. My bank account would look a little healthier and I wouldn’t have the theme tune from Stranger Things echoing round my head.

But then, as I think I mentioned before, the rugby is almost incidental in these European away trips and a small matter of an impending Noachian deluge is not going to deter the hardened Sale Sharks fan from a couple of days snarfing down French food, French cheese and French wine.

1r jour: vendredi

Match day dawned—ok, not ‘dawned’; that is entirely the wrong word—match day started at 4am after a generous sleep of at least 3 and half hours. Various bleary-eyed, partly human travellers staggered their way to the airport terminal for the stupid o’clock flight to La Rochelle. It’s odd that, after a brief flurry of excitement going through security (am I absolutely certain that there’s nothing in my bags on the banned list?), you then spend more time sitting around drinking coffee and buying yet another plug adapter – because, once again, you forgot to bring one of the dozen or so sitting in a dusty drawer at home – than you do crammed into the metal tube that magically deposits you several hundred miles away.

(Reviews previous sentence, crosses eyes, shrugs, carries on…)

Eventually we arrived at a shed that claimed to be an airport terminal; La Rochelle in January is not the busiest place in France. First priority: an ATM to get some cash; and there’s one just outside arrivals. There’s a note on it: this ATM opens April 15th. OK, it’s definitely off season here. Fortunately, a bus arrives, I have the €1.30 it costs to get into town, and so the adventure really begins.

The disadvantage of an early flight is that you arrive at your hotel well before the official check-in time, so the room’s not ready, which means it’ll be a few hours before you can get changed and freshen up a bit. Meanwhile, breakfast is in order, followed by a bit of wandering around town noting the inviting-looking restaurants and bars for later visiting.

Sale supporters in a cafe in La Rochelle

But serious exploring is for tomorrow; today the match takes precedence. So, after finally getting into my room and getting the Sale kit on, it’s down to Général Humbert’s (a staggering 100 metres from the hotel) for pre-match libations and the gathering of the clans.

We decided to walk to the ground since it was a pleasant evening, the bus stop was a way off and La Rochelle’s taxi was doing something else.

Le match

I’m going to ignore my copious notes and just say that Sale definitely had the better of the first half physically and territorially. The half time score of 15–16 was only that close because the two La Rochelle tries were somewhat fortuitous: one came from a hack on after a fumbled pass went loose and the other from an interception, again whilst Sale were attempting to turn on the pressure. An enjoyable, close, attritional half marred by the (as we later discovered) long-term injury to AJ’s shoulder.

The second half was a less promising affair. La Rochelle went all-out from the kick-off. They upped the intensity, increased the physicality, and bossed the first 30 minutes of the half. Sale simply failed to respond to the change; they fought a rearguard action for 20 minutes, but it was inevitable that the wheels would come off at some point, and they duly did on 58 minutes, when Dalmayrou scored Stade’s third try. Then Ashton was carded a few minutes later, then we had a bit of a contretemps as Timani tried to rip Morozov’s head off and Valery stupidly responded with his fists. Timani was shown yellow, Valery red.

Then Aldritt got the bonus point try and all memory of the first half disappeared behind a wall of disappointment with the last thirty minutes’ effort.


But we ended on a high as the team knocked down that wall with a stirring display for the last five minutes that saw them finally wake up and reassert the forward dominance of the first half. There was a genuine sense of urgency as they attacked the La Rochelle line and Curtis Langdon went over for the try that brought Sale the bonus point.

And it could have been more: taking the ball up from their own half from the kick-off, Sale got to within five metres of squaring the match up, before being pushed back and then losing the ball to end the game. Too little, too late, but an indication of what might have been had they responded in that fashion from the start of the half.

Sale supporters at Stade Marcel Deflandre
Never give up, never surrender…

So, disappointed but not downhearted, we trudged back to the Général Humbert for the after-match party. OK, I will own up to succumbing to a long day and advancing years and, after a token pint, I left the loud music and glowing teeth for my – very welcome – bed.

2e jour: samedi

Having got the previous evening’s interruption out of the way, it was time to explore this lovely little town. I will admit that my only knowledge of it is that of a battle between royalists and Huguenots that plays a large part in the Three Musketeers (they take on a bet to have a picnic within bowshot of the Huguenot castle walls). Rather than try to describe the town, I’ll just add here some of the photos I took wandering around that morning.

By lunchtime, most of the previous evening’s celebrants had managed to crawl out of bed, scoff a few headache tablets and emerge blinking into the new day. And so, we all spent the rest of the day in the company of the best friends anyone could ask for, eating fabulous food, drinking wine and beer and coffee and generally solving all the world’s problems, if only the world would listen to us.

Because the world would be so much better if it was run by rugby fans who just want good food, good booze and good craic (rugby optional).

And if you want to know more, then you’ll just have to come on the next one: because what happens on tour stays on tour…

3e jour: dimanche – le voyage de retour

Breakfast at the hotel, rather than seek out a bijou café today because it’s Sunday and this is France. Pigged out on croissants and pains aux chocolate, it’s time to contemplate how to get to the airport, because it’s Sunday and this is France.

Enquiries at hotel reception suggest that there is a bus from Place de Verdun so, all packed and checked-out, it’s off on the ten-minute walk to the bus stop. Except it takes half an hour, obviously, because, yes, there’s a café open and it’s Sunday and this is France.

Checking at the bus stop, there is some indication that the bus only runs during the summer. On the other hand, I’ve seen one going the other way. On the gripping hand, it’s Sunday and this is France.

Some other weary travellers have turned up, and the consensus is that we’ll wait to see if it turns up at the advertised time, otherwise it’ll be a mad scramble to get in those three taxis over there. Except that the three taxis of five minutes ago are now one taxi, and he’s just buggered off somewhere. It’s Sunday, and this is France.

There are worse places to be stranded…

The bus turned up, we sat around in the airport, consuming coffee but not buying travel adaptors (because we’re going home and, anyway, the duty free was shut – it’s Sunday and—you get the idea). An uncomfortable, but mercifully short, flight back and we’re on British terra firma again. One advantage of tiny airports is that you aren’t faced with a 10-mile hike from the plane to passport control.

An uneventful drive back (dry this time) to be greeted by my dog giving me a look as if to say “oh, you’re back, then” before wandering back to his bed.

A bite to eat, a cup of tea and normal life settles over me like a comfort blanket.

For now…

Les réflexions

  • Sale’s biggest problem is responding to tactical changes by the opposition. That’s a few times this season they’ve been caught out after a period of dominance by the other team chaging their game plan and getting on top. This needs to be sorted out if they have any pretentions of regularly winning against the top sides.
  • Morozov’s an idiot. Provoked, yes, but still an idiot for responding.
  • The fringe players acquitted themselves pretty well. Naivety and inexperience, not lack of talent or application, told in the end. They’ll improve. Williams took his kicks well.
  • Perhaps, if we hadn’t lost AJ, the result might have been different. I’ve just said that I thought Williams coped well with being thrust into such a responsible position, but I suspect a wiser, more experienced head at the helm might have seen us weather that second half onslaught better than we did.
  • Put up a good performance against Glasgow (preferably a win) and I’ll be content with this year’s campaign.
  • God, I love these away weekends.

† Fifty metres sober…



Photographer and science geek. Rugby fan (Sale Sharks).