It’s not often that The Boys on Tour trip passes without incident but their latest jaunt to Clermont seems to hve been a complete success, well off the pitch at least. Boy’s on Tour’s Caveman brings us up to date.
Following the glorious win away to Edinburgh, a burst of late night texts and calls between members of Boys on Tour resulted in the decision to book a trip to Clermont. Fly to Geneva on Saturday morning, hire a car and drive to Clermont, overnight in a simple, cheap but serviceable hotel and make the return trip the next day following a tight but glorious victory – simples!
First up, get a ticket for the game – too many times have there been reports of fans getting to the venue without tickets and being disappointed. So, we bought tickets for the “pesage” – the standing area around the pitch. Those of us – that is, me – concerned with getting a good view of the game itself had thrown in the suggestion that it might be good to buy a ticket with a guaranteed seat and, therefore, view. However an email arrived to say we had booked the pesage. No problem– get there early, stand up at the barrier, get a good view – simples!
Nerves were perhaps a little stretched in the lead up to the preceding Heineken match, but no problem, Leicester came, saw and were conquered in some style. Game on!
So off we went, four of us meeting at 4.20AM on Saturday morning. A smooth flight to Geneva was followed by a walk around Geneva airport as we tried to find the French sector. But then, someone detected a whiff of garlic and we were off and running. In to the hire car counters, hire the Volkswagen Jetta – surprisingly roomy and economical – and off.
What a start to the trip – there’s no stopping us now. OK, so we had a nice wee scenic detour along some snowy, mountainous roads until we reached the autoroute, but that made it more authentic. I guess the problem with having printed out routes from two different motoring organisations is they don’t necessarily agree. A brief stop at an authentic French restaurant with golden arches on its roof for lunch and next stop Clermont.
We found the hotel fairly quickly, though it was nice to see round Clermont before going to the hotel. The hotel owner told us he had taken over the hotel only a month previously and that there was some work going on. But, not in our rooms, which were clean, simple and had everything we needed – mostly two single beds in each.
The Hotel Beaulieu (2star) was near the university and in a slightly depressing, but authentic street, but we would recommend it – breakfast the next morning was excellent. A hundred metres up the road was the tram stop. Duly attired in Ulster uniforms, off we set. We boarded a hugely packed tram in the company of many Clermont fans, one of whom was Irish but married to a local girl. He told us tales of silence and respect for goalkickers and laughed when we said we thought victory for Ulster was on the cards he was supporting them.
Off at the stadium, show the ticket to a guy who scanned it at the gate and straight into the ground. Being a wee bit later than we’d hoped we did not get to stand at the barrier. Instead we stood just behind, at a second barrier, with some other Ulster supporters. From her we generally sang, chanted, shouted and yo-ho’d as is the wont of the travelling Ulster supporter. Lots of Clermont fans shook hands, waved and smiled and took photos with us.
There was a real air of confidence about them. They have a guy who warms up the crowd from the middle of the pitch – gets each stand to cheer in turn and that – bit like a pantomime. They all have these clacker things. They are cardboard folded with advertising on one side and either blue or yellow on the other, so when they’re told to hold them up, there is a sea of blue and yellow. The clackers make a hell of a noise when hit against your hand. Also there fans sing and chant in unison – at Ravenhill I had been impressed by their travelling support. At home they were tremendous. Everyone took part.
So to the game. As predicted, our view was not as good as it might have been but the atmosphere, which we added to, was great. My impressions were of my nervousness in the opening minutes as their backs attacked our left wing and almost broke through and a growing sense of “we can do this” – even early on.
I remember looking at the clock and seeing the first quarter gone and thinking how we were well in the game. There were near misses for tries by us and Pienaar’s kicks. They started to get nervous – you could see, feel and hear it, and made a number of substitutions.
Initially they were quiet for kicks, but as they got nervous the noise when Ruan lined up a kick increased. But for me there were a few turning points. Small margins win games they say, and I thought if Pienaar could got one of the two missed kicks over that would have pinned them back. Restarts have been iffy for a long time – that was a disappointment. Johann’s uncharacteristic outburst was a setback and Rory’s crooked lineout throw were all nails in the coffin.
They were rattled after 55-60 minutes. If we could have held them, I think they would have cracked. For me, the lesson to learn is to apply pressure. At the scrum which was reversed to give them a penalty we could have applied pressure, maybe got a penalty and either taken the points with a restart coming to us, or gone for the corner. A good throw in from Rory would have built the pressure. Not to be. Some of the lads were annoyed that the team didn’t come out afterwards.
Everyone was our mate once they won. There had been a certain amount of jeering during the game, but not afterwards. We headed off across the road to one of the pavement bars to have a bevy and sing our songs. I met up briefly with Brian Maltman and his wife, Jackie, now resident in France. They were on a bus in a group of 26 local Ulster supporters. We were well received by Clermont fans– they bought us drink – but I had a disappointed feeling – the game was ours for the taking. After a while I dandered back over to the stadium for a pee. There I saw the team coming out to get on their coach, and a dejected looking bunch they were. I shook hands with a few – they thanked me for coming and supporting – but there was little talk among them.
Boys on Tour then followed a familiar pattern – bar, different bar, singing, back-slapping etc. Eventually we went for a pizza with some other supporters. This was quite late on, so the pre-bed kebab wasn’t required. We then meandered back to our small but perfectly formed hotel, taking a scenic route or two. We got to see a bit of Clermont by night.
Off to bed to try to sleep with the thoughts and sounds of the day ringing in my ears – which helped to drown out the snores of the twin I was sharing with. Next morning a good breakfast and hit the road. We had a smooth journey back, only getting lost around Geneva airport – and what’s wrong with a short detour into Switzerland? We went looking for an authentic French restaurant to have lunch, settling for a Bison grill as everywhere else was shut – well it was lunchtime. We left back the car, amazed at its frugality and headed for duty-free. Our flight was delayed by thirty minutes because of bad weather in England.
So ends another remarkably incident-free Boys on Tour trip. We caught the flights on time, went to the right country, the game wasn’t moved to Paris, we got to the stadium, we saw the game (not the best view, but OK), we interacted with the locals and got home to those who love us – God bless’em. Roll on Thomond Park.