It’s amazing how you can arrange a weekend away in a foreign country within a matter of hours, but that’s what happened when James was offered two tickets to England v. Samoa in Nantes last week. By the end of the day we had checked out flights and booked a ferry (on the basis that if a hotel room wasn’t available we would still have somewhere to sleep! The following day we found a room available (obviously just released by organised tour company or sponsor – right in the centre of Nantes.
So at 7pm on Friday we left home and headed for Portsmouth. En route we listened to the France v. Ireland match and I was heartened to hear that Eoin Reddan was right in the thick of it. We missed the second half while having a meal (I don’t normally like pubs with TVs but during the World Cup we should make an exception!)
While eating I was called by another friend after a trying to find a hotel room. I couldn’t wave a magic wand but promised to ask when we checked in.
We boarded the ferry with hundreds of other rugby supporters and headed for the bar for a ‘bedtime drink’ where we met Midland Wasps who was on a coach tour. We spotted a couple of other Wasps shirts as well as Saints.
The ‘salon’ where we had reserved reclining seats was occupied mostly by a company of young Royal Marines – they were all summoned into a huddle before we left port and obviously given orders about behaviour! We didn’t see them in the bar, they were all asleep when we got back to the ‘salon’ and they were woken at 5am, changed into team colours (RM polo shirt, and beige trousers) and standing by the door ready to go at least an hour before we reached the French coast!.Our GPS (Doris) indicated that we had a 350km journey in front of us and we estimated arrival in Nantes about 10:30-11:00. However, after the obligatory petrol/coffee stop and another for the transfer of 90 Euros to a nice Gendarm who clocked us exceeding the speed limit (I have been ribbed for three years about the 3 points sitting on my licence and now he “gets away” with an on the spot fine!!) we eventually arrived at just after 12:00. On checking in we enquired about availability of another room and there was one available! Later in our room I saw the tariff sheet – usual price for our room 80 Euros, RWC price 190 Euros – we actually paid 105. Mind you, the hotel was 5 minutes walk from the castle and the city centre with bars and restaurants and over the road from the tram stop which took us to the stadium.
After exploring the centre, meeting some Waspies and searching in vain for the riverside cafes (Nantes in on the Loire) we found lunch back near the tram stop. The TV in the corner was showing South Africa v. Tonga and the majority of diners were all checking out the progress of our South Sea friends (well, they were friends last week while they were giving South Africa a hard time). The spaghetti and wine went down well and swiftly.
The tram journey takes about 25 minutes so we arrived in our seats just on kick off – only to discover that some of the other freebie tickets hadn’t made it to supporters (there were probably six empty seats around us). I am sure that if these had been ‘released’ more than a couple of days before the match they could have been filled. However, in the 4th row of the lower stand by the 22 we had a perfect view of the whole pitch. Although the stadium seats over 30,000 it felt quite compact. Reports on the match can be read elsewhere but I won’t go into to much detail about the match except to say that England again had a curate’s egg of a game again – I am not sure why we can’t play the same for 80 minutes. It amused me to see that Allessandro Tuilagi had that same look on his face as in the Heineken Cup Final – “What can I do to stop that Sackey bloke from tackling me?” (Austin Healey sitting behind us was trying to put Tuilagi off all the way through the second half but to no avail..).
It was obvious that everyone in the stadium not wearing a white shirt was supporting Samoa (the underdogs have received huge amounts of support in many games) – “Allez les Bleus” rang out at regular intervals and it made for a huge atmosphere; added to by the competition between the bands at either end of the ground.
After the match we were going to hang around to soak up the atmosphere and see who else we could meet up with but Midland Wasp pointed out to us that the beer for sale within the ground was non alcoholic! You wouldn’t know it from the price…
So we headed back to the hotel. Now, you will recall that the score was 44-22 to England. Well, a certain England Full Back’s parents were in the same hotel as us and guess what – our room number was 44 and theirs was 22!! We had a few drinks and then, due to our early departure the following morning, searched out a restaurant – eventually we found probably the most disorganised Chinese restaurant ever – yes I know that they all look disorganised but this one really was!!
At 4am Sunday we left and headed back for Caen and the 9am sailing. We made it in plenty of time (only one stop this time for petrol/coffee!!). The ferry lounge was very quiet until they started Karaoke for the teenagers so we headed to the cinema to see the Bourne Ultimatum. I couldn’t stay awake through the whole film but that is fairly standard for me anyway.
All in all a great unexpected weekend in France, and if there are any other tickets going……