Battle of the Saints

Another in a long but intermittent series in this post: overseas rugby. For the last week I’ve been on holiday in central France, in a little village located in an area between Angouleme and Limoges, on the border of the Charente and the Dordogne.

This last weekend was the first of the French club rugby union season and I was determined to find a game to photograph. I last visited the country around the same time two years ago and then I’d been able to find a match within ten miles of my ‘home’. This time, however, it seemed that all clubs in the immediate locality were beginning their campaigns with away trips.

I did eventually find a club that was playing at home: Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche, against neighbours St Junien (hence ‘Battle of the Saints’ tee hee). Just over an hour’s drive to the east, the car’s thermometer was showing a temperature of 30˚ when I arrived at the venue. The sun blazed down from a cloudless sky, bounced off the concrete surfaces and only the occasional breeze brought relief from the relentless heat.

First try to St Yrieix - maul from a lineout

The two clubs’ reserve sides were in action against each other when I arrived. The ground itself is located on a hillside above the town. It’s modern and impressive, part of a rugby training centre I think. The large stand which runs down one side of the pitch is particularly well placed on such a day as many of the 900 strong crowd were already seated within it in relatively cooling shade.

When the main event kicked off at 3 o’clock I was in full sun, the factor 50 working on overtime. As you’ll have gathered from the pictures, St Yrieix played in black shirts and St Junien in white. It seemed as if many of the players were affected by the heat too as there was little running rugby during the first half. The home side spent much of it in defensive mode and the play was rarely near me. The two sides exchanged penalties so the scoreboard ticked over in multiples of three rather than five.

Baptiste Cubertafon kicked well all afternoon

I’ve managed to find a French match report and it seems to reflect my view that there was a marked improvement in the second forty. As you’ll see, its timeline of events highlights this period. The light was much better from my point of view as well; the sun was behind me so the oncoming players were well lit rather than in shadow.

St Yrieix scored two tries in this period; one as a result of a maul and another in the corner from a passing move down the left touchline. More penalties and conversions brought a final tally of 27-15.

Second try for St Yrieix - a run down the left

The crowd had been supporting their side throughout, often breaking into song. I was going to write that this is the first club I’ve photographed that I can’t actually pronounce but they made it easy. The chorus of their song went something like ‘Eee-ray!’ They continued singing after the final whistle and there was much celebrating all round. Hard to believe it was only the first match of a long season.

Post match song from the players

The players went round their usual hand shaking, lined up in front of the crowd and burst into song themselves! Never seen that before. No idea what they were singing but it was clearly appreciated by all. If all their games are half as good as the second half of this one, St Yrieix should have a successful season!

Big thanks to all at St Yrieix for such a ‘warm’ welcome! See more pics in this gallery.

Huddle celebration