Tag Archives: France

First Week Completed for Sexton


Sexton attacks under the watchful eye of Laurent Labit at Racing Metro’s training centre in Plessis-Robinson. (c) Emilie Manchon.

Jonny Sexton completed his first week of training with Racing Metro today, having been omitted from the club’s opening friendly of the summer last night. The Ireland outhalf’s pre season schedule got underway on Monday, before an interview with Le Parisien, a popular daily newspaper, was published on Tuesday morning. Sexton took the chance to explain his reasons for joining Racing, as well as underlining that there was more to his decision to join the club than just the high wages on offer.

Racing had an open training session on Tuesday afternoon, which followed a more intense run-out behind closed doors earlier in the day. That afternoon, Sexton was involved in his first press conference as a Racing player, where he fielded questions about settling in Paris, his ambitions and his views on the Top 14. The remainder of the week involved a heavy pre season programme alongside fellow Lions Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate. Coaches Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers wisely decided not to involve the trio in yesterday’s 14-6 loss to Toulon.

Sexton may play next Friday though, when Racing face Harlequins in a money-spinning exhibition game in Geneva. That contrasts greatly with how Mike Phillips is being eased in back at Bayonne. The Welshman is expected to miss the club’s first two Top 14 games, before re-entering the fray on the 31st of August against USAP. Conversely, Sexton is likely to be start Racing’s opening league fixture against Brive in La Rochelle on the 17th of this month. Racing have moved the game away from Paris due to the number of the locals who will still be on holidays.

Sexton is the type of player who likes to play as many games as possible, so he will have no problem being involved so soon after the Lions tour, but it could be five months down the line before he starts to feel the true effects of a relatively short break. That said, Racing president Jacky Lorenzetti isn’t paying Sexton to rest and in a year when the Top 14 will to be more competitive than ever, every single game is of importance.

Racing suffered defeat in their first game under the new coaching duo against Toulon, but that will cause no great concern. In what was a surprisingly hard-hitting encounter on the Mediterranean coast, the home side scored two penalty tries, with both converted by Jonny Wilkinson. Racing’s only response was two penalties from the boot of outhalf Jonathan Wisniewski. The Frenchman is a good option for les deux Laurents, but will almost certainly need to get used to playing back-up.

For Sexton, the first week is over. The hard work starts again on Monday and by this time next week we may have seen the 28-year-old in Racing’s sky blue and white jersey for the first time. The French adventure is underway and off to a good start.


Photo: Emilie Manchon.

The Exiled Irish: Allez Les Verts

French Flag with Sun

Who wouldn't want to play in sunny France? (c) garko88

Two weeks ago, The Touchline looked at a team of young Irish players currently contracted in England (Youth XV Backline and Youth XV Pack). This week’s Exiled Irish piece is set in France, where there are a handful of Irish men plying their trade. It’s certainly a less popular destination for guys looking to leave these shores, but we may see more of it in the near future as the increasingly important rugby agents in Ireland broaden their contact bases.

Once again, it all boils down to the lack of opportunity here in Ireland for professional rugby players. Compared to our four provinces, France obviously has 14 teams in the Top 14 as well as a further 16 in the second-tier Pro D2. Many players who fail to make the grade with the provinces, or find themselves on the fringes of the senior set-ups, could easily forge a professional career for themselves in France.

Rugby Photoshoot - Grenoble vs Narbonne - 31/03/12

Andrew Farley claims a lineout for Grenoble in the Top 14. (c) Vijay PhotoWalks.

The IRFU needs to change its stance on guys who play abroad. While never explicitly articulated, it’s generally accepted that moving away from Ireland decreases your chance of gaining international honours. While I’m not advocating a mass exodus of our top players, like we’re seeing from Wales at the moment, would it be such a bad thing if someone like Luke Fitzgerald were to play in the Top 14? It could improve him immensely as a player and a person. There are obvious negatives to players moving away but it’s worth a thought.

For now, I profile several Irish players currently contracted to French clubs. Again, the aim is to highlight guys who took a risk by moving abroad in order to ensure a continuing career in professional rugby. The intention is not to suggest these guys as immediate international prospects, but rather to applaud them for having the balls to move abroad to keep playing rugby. Interestingly, all four have played for Connacht!


Andrew Farley

Farley competes in the air against Scotland during the 2007 Churchill Cup. (c) Caroline Mockett ARPS.

A slightly different story to what has come in the Exiled Irish so far, but one worth highlighting. 31-year-old Farley is Irish by residency, having spent 5 seasons with Connacht. Born in Australia, he has had a long and varied career, but many Irish fans will remember his years in the second-row in Galway. Capped at U19 level for Australia, Farley moved to Italian side L’Aquila to play Heineken Cup rugby in ’00/01. The following season he did the same in Wales with Swansea, before Connacht swooped to sign him during the ’04/05 campaign.

5 years of Magners League and Amlin Cup followed in Ireland, 3 of them as captain. Having gained Irish nationality, Farley played for Ireland ‘A’ as they won the Plate at the 2007 Churchill Cup. In 2009, the Brisbane-born lock decided it was time for a new adventure and signed with Pro D2 side Grenoble. He was soon elected captain and this season has led the side to promotion to the Top 14. Farley is contracted for next season too and looks likely to be the first Irish man to captain a Top 14 club. An exiled exile, if you will, and a legend too!

Grenoble Profile: Andrew Farley     Twitter: @BruceFarls


Brian McGovern

The 26-year-old tighthead prop is currently with French Pro D2 side Narbonne. Back in 2004, while still at St.Mary’s, he represented the Irish Schools alongside Rob Kearney, Sean Cronin and Devin Toner. After graduating, he spent a couple of years playing AIL with UCD, before Connacht signed him for the ’07/08 season. However, only 1 start followed in the next two seasons, prompting a move to Italian Super 10 outfit Venezia. In Italy, the Dubliner finally enjoyed first-team rugby and his 15 starts earned him a move to Narbonne at the start of the ’10/11 season.

Narbonne have struggled to set the Pro D2 alight in the last couple of seasons, finishing 13th in McGovern’s first season and lying 14th with just one fixture remaining this year. Matt Williams came in as Coaching Director and a shareholder at the club this season but has had little impact. As for McGovern, he has been involved in 14 of Narbonne’s 27 league fixtures this season, although has only started 3 times. Still relatively young for a prop, McGovern has plenty of time to secure a more important berth within the squad.


Christian Short

Short (wearing scrumcap) waits for lineout ball against Montpellier earlier this season. (c) Cecile Mallet.

Short is the only Irish-qualified player contracted to a Top 14 club at the moment. Unfortunately it looks almost certain that he and his Lyon teammates will be swapping places with Farley and co. for next season. Lyon are bottom of the Top 14 with just three games remaining. 32-year-old Short was born in Newcastle, England but qualifies for Ireland through his parents. His professional career began with Connacht in 2003. His impressive form in the ’05/06 campaign earned him a move to Premiership side Northampton the following season, where he was first-choice in a Heineken Cup year.

However, the Saints were relegated to the Championship and second-row Short headed for Top 14 side Brive. The 6’6″ lock enjoyed two seasons there, once again playing Heineken Cup rugby in ’09/10. The following season he dropped down to the Pro D2 to join current club Lyon. Short, an intelligent lineout operator, played a major role as Lyon were promoted in his first season. However, life in the Top 14 has proved tough for Lyon. Short’s impact on the French top-tier has been limited to just 4 starts. Still, he has made a great career out of rugby since leaving Ireland.

Lyon Profile: Christian Short (check out the bad video).


David McGowan

McGowan is in his 5th season with Pro D2 side La Rochelle. The 26-year-old Sligo native has been capped by Ireland at U19 and U21 levels (the same year as Sean O’Brien, Jonny Sexton and Paul Marshall amongst others) while playing with Buccaneers RFC. A development contract with Connacht followed in ’05/06 but over the course of two seasons, the 6’5′ lock made just 5 substitute appearances. He hired an agent and signed with La Rochelle at the start of the ’07/08 season, becoming an important first-team player almost immediately.

La Rochelle were promoted to the Top 14 for the ’10/11 campaign, but McGowan’s season was frustratingly limited to 6 starts by a shoulder injury and concussion, also preventing him from making an appearance in the Amlin Challenge Cup. This season, back in the Pro D2, the western outfit have gone well and look likely to be involved in next month’s promotion play-offs. Once again, injuries have somewhat restricted McGowan’s involvement, but he continues to enjoy life in France. In McGowan’s own words: “People often don’t realise how much of a closed shop it can be at home. There are only four professional clubs in Ireland”.

La Rochelle Profile: David McGowan


Photos courtesy: Caroline Mockett ARPS, Cecile Mallet, garko88, Vijay PhotoWalks.

Ireland’s Date in France set for March

Ireland V France

Ireland and France will face each other on March the 4th. (c) Martin Dobey.

Today began with completely ridiculous suggestions by the FFR that the France vs. Ireland game should be put back until September in order to avoid any clash with Top 14 fixtures . Thankfully, some sort of common sense has prevailed and the Six Nations match has been rescheduled for the 4th of March, with a kick-off time of 3.00pm Irish time.

This is the weekend we had anticipated and the one that makes most sense, although it does give both teams the difficult task of 4 games in a row. Wales are the team who will probably benefit most from this entire fiasco. They will now hope to welcome a tired French side to the Millenium Stadium on Paddy’s Day with a Grand Slam on the line.

The IRFU have greeted the Six Nations Council’s decision with disappointment. Their preference was that the game go ahead on March 3rd, in order to give the Irish team a seven day turnaround in between each of the remaining  four fixtures. Also, a Saturday match would have presumably made it easier for travelling fans.


Irish fans returning from France. Many will have to fork out to travel over again in two weekends' time. (c) Liam Coughlan.

The Six Nations Council has also stated that any fans who are unable to travel to France again for the rescheduled fixture will receive a full refund for their tickets. Hopefully, this will be some sort of consolation to the thousands of disgruntled supporters who made the original trek over. Once again, the hope is that the Six Nations Council will never let something like this happen again.

As mentioned before, four games in a row will represent a big challenge for Declan Kidney and his squad. But that is what faces them now and they must prepare for that task. The immediate focus is Italy in just under two weeks’ time. Judging on their opening games, this is a physical Italian side who lack invention and an outhalf. Ireland have enough quality to get a win on the board before travelling back to France. For now, they have to forget about the French.


Photos courtesy:  Martin Dobey, Liam Coughlan.

Farce in France

Stade de France

Stade de France. (c) Don Pham Doan.

With just ten minutes until kick-off, word started to filter through that the match was off. After hearing that referee Dave Pearson had given the go-ahead around two hours before the scheduled start, the excitement had gone into overdrive for what was sure to be one of the highlights of this Six Nations. With the Stade de France almost full, the official announcement came that the game was postponed because of the weather conditions.

The boos that greeted the news were only a mild expression of what the fans who had spent hard-earned cash to travel to France must have felt. They would not have been blamed for an angrier expression of their feelings. How did it come to a decision ten minutes before kick-off? Surely in this day and age, the officials in charge could have foreseen this happening and made an earlier call? With the freezing temperatures that have hit Paris all week and were forecast for tonight, it’s fair to say the weather was no surprise.

It’s hard not to feel for the loyal Irish supporters who made the trip, having spent their money and taken days off work. However, it is what it is and the game is off. Anger at the decision won’t achieve anything, but the organisers involved have to learn from this. It should never again get to the point where a game is called off with just minutes to go until kick-off. Given this particualr situation though, it was obviously the right call by Pearson. Players should never be forced to play in dangerous circumstances.

Panorama Stade De France

Fans at the Stade de France were left gutted by the late call. (c) Fabien Lavocat

This obviously effects the playing side of things. The game will most likely be rescheduled for one of the tournament’s break weekends, either February 18/19th or March 3/4th. If the game were to be put back to that weekend in March, it would mean four matches in-a-row for Ireland. That would be a big ask in such a high-intensity tournament. On the flip side, it would mean Ireland’s next match being at home to Italy, a good chance for a morale boosting win before taking on the French.

Playing the game next weekend seems unlikely given the logistics involved planning a game with a crowd of 80,000 people. As well as that, Stade de France is scheduled to be used for Stade Francais vs. Toulon Top 14 match on Saturday. It may be that Ireland are forced into four matches on consecutive weekends. From a supporters point of view, that would make things quite interesting, and if Ireland kicked the run off with a win in Italy, momentum could carry them back to France and beyond.

What was your take on what happened in Paris? Comment below with your view of things. When would you like to see the match rescheduled for? Would four weekends in-a-row be too much of an ask?


Photos courtesy:  Fabien Lavocat, Don Pham Doan.