The bus to the game was noisy or, at least, everything felt amplified. There were bleary eyes and sunglasses and abuse of exit valves.
Ovale du Gy is at the end of a cobbled road out in the French Countryside, among stone buildings and working farms. It’s the sort of thing they put on postcards and the outside of wine boxes. They welcomed us off the bus with handshakes and warm smiles. The pitch looked frozen in time – a white fence on the far side separating it from a hay field. A thin mud stirred up from the morning rain sat atop a hard earth under green grass. The warmups felt like starting an old car that had been parked in a barn somewhere. Once it all got moving, everything still worked and it was ready for a few good miles.
|Their coaches harp about the same things as the VRC coaches, just in French|
The Silver Bisons are the over 40s division of the Ovale du Gy club. Their games are played on Sundays, so they’re able to borrow younger players from the main club to fill out the roster.
Captain Overgaard addressed my prior concern that our new vintage VRC long sleeve red and white hoops were too nice to be dragged through a muddy rugby game in the pre-kickoff huddle: “There are guys who came over here and fought a war with these jumpers in their bags. They’re not for keeping clean. Now let’s go get them muddied and bloodied.”
Old Boys Format in France calls for three 20 minute periods. The Rowers received and came out strong right away. It played like an over 40s game. No kicking from outside the 22, no touchies, and a home-side referee who only used the whistle when it was absolutely necessary. Our quintet of VRC props offered no comment on the uncontested scrums. The Bisons made good use of the rolling maul
to make yards
but were otherwise offensively frustrated in the first third. They rucked
fearlessly, and treated the ball with a sense of ownership, but were unable to
find paydirt. The Rowers established a rhythm quickly. They made good use of
available space, finding winger Nik Samija on the outside to open up the
scoring with a forty yard run. Luc Gourdine then made the most of a distinctly
unfair age advantage, scoring his first of two tries on the day. Dave Hall, on
loan to the Rowing club from his home in Spain, also scored one of his
characteristic breakaway tries. I can’t remember if counterpart winger Dave
Anderson scored one or not, but if not he probably set a few up. There are no
conversions in old boys rugby, so the Rowers finished the first third up three
tries to none.
|1910 VRC Replica Tour Shirt With French Mud|
The Bisons showed the visitors that they could run with them in the 2nd third, putting in 2 tries of their own, one courtesy of George Richmond who turned it over near his own goal line, and one off a rolling maul. The Rowers scored two of their own in a period where they had the most ball. Highlights included a Justin Parlato try, Steve McGilvery pulling a crowd-pleasing Harlem Globetrotters impression, Mikey Santoro carving up a defense with a few stutter steps into space, and Jamie Overgard winning a foot race over 50 yards with a smile on his face to put one in.
The third stanza saw the Rowers scoring four tries to the hosts one, for a final score of nine tries to three. By then the red and white were playing with unstoppable grins. To a man, this was the most fun we’d had in a long time. The Bisons weren’t afraid of contact and liked to mix it up at the bottom of the rucks. The pain cut through a lingering numbness from the night before and made us remember where we were and what we were doing. Contact turns a surreal float through a rugby game in the French countryside into a clear and present situation. You can really taste the mud with someone lying on the back of your head, and it makes a guy feel alive.
|The Ovale Du Gy Clubhouse|
Ovale du Gy are top hosts. Their quaint clubhouse is decorated with the plaques, banners and trophies that line the walls of similar clubhouses everywhere. It takes a lot of baguettes, sausages and pates to feed 2 rugby teams, but there was plenty to go around. Beer was at the clubhouse bar for cheap, and wine on the table next to the baguettes - on the house. I got the feeling that serving the bread and cheese and pate without wine would have been considered rude. We were invited to a curious ‘cheese eating boat race’ featuring some cheese that with an odor that can’t be done justice in print. Maverick Seed, fresh off of an impressive try saving cover tackle, was unable to keep his hastily eaten fromage down. I’m not sure whether that means he won or lost.
We sang songs and visited with Coach Matty Jones’ parents who came in from England to support us, and talked with people who live lives just like ours, but live them in French. I’m not sure rugby as ever been quite that much fun.
Stay tuned for more tour coverage, including pictures.