Top 14: A rugby related incident you may have missed
What a week it’s been; a week when an England rugby player drowned his sorrows in defeat by throwing himself off a boat and into the briny and a French one sought solace from his team’s woes by launching a brutal attack on a rival at an after-match function. Manu Tuilagi’s daft display in Auckland harbour is well-documented so there’s no need for further detail there; Toulon loose forward Olivier Missoup’s moment of revenge may, however, have escaped you.
The incident followed Toulon’s 19-6 defeat at Montpellier; a significant result for the hosts given it was their first win since last season’s semi-final.
Toulon, meanwhile, had gone into round six looking to build on an encouraging start to the reign of their new head coach Bernard Laporte who had picked the occasion for owner Mourad Boudjellal’s latest galacticos signing, Willie Mason, to make his Top 14 debut.
Alas, the League convert’s contribution – he lasted more than 70 minutes before being replaced – was overshadowed by events elsewhere on the pitch where hostilities between two of the league’s more established faces were bubbling along dangerously close to boiling point and due to
go well beyond the 80.
The full details of Missoup’s scrap with Remy Martin are the focus of an investigation. It seems the two former teammates from Stade Francais have plenty of “previous” and their “rivalry” on this particular day appeared to have hit a new low when a French newspaper alleged Martin had racially-abused Missoup who is black.
Thankfully, those allegations were not only refuted by Martin but later denied in a statement by Missoup’s employers. Even so, Toulon did claim that Missoup had been “the victim of characteristic assaults” throughout the match by the Montpellier flanker. “The video images prove it, particularly a kick to the hand,” the statement added.
Beyond dispute is that the spat spilled over into the after-match function at the Stade Yves du Manoir with Missoup hunting down the former France international and inflicting facial injuries which required nine stitches. It might have been worse had players from both sides not intervened and pulled them off one another.
Toulon’s next game is on Saturday (October 15) with the visitors to the Stade Mayol being another hardened bunch, the Catalans from Perpignan.
The Mayol has a culture and “beauty” all of its own. It lies in the heart of the city; concrete blocks, otherwise ugly high-rise tenement flats in two corners have balconies that provide perfect viewing platforms, ringside seats every bit as good as those in the diamond section.
Toulon is a blue collar town, spit ‘n sawdust, and at Stade Mayol ceremony and tradition dictates the run-in to every clash. It all starts 90 minutes before kick off when the team bus rolls up outside the ground for the 50-metre walk to the players’ entrance.
Owner Boudjellal is first down the steps, the club’s black blazer complete with breast badge and scarlet patches on the elbows his match day uniform. The players follow – one-by-one, single-file, running the gauntlet of fans who’ve been waiting for them for an hour or more. Amid the flag wavers and painted faces is a lone bugler. Lips pursed, the Marseillaise and God Save the Queen, in respect of Jonny-you-know-who, are the favourite tunes.
The players’ walk is a tradition which is rugby’s equivalent of Le Tour’s battle up the out-of-category climbs. As the gradient becomes ever steeper so the breadth of the “couloir” the riders are afforded by enthusiastic fans gets narrower and narrower.
When I was last there, for a Heineken Cup match against Munster last season, thousands gathered to welcome their heroes. And as Wilkinson emerged so the path closed up. Like Tiger from green to tee at The Open, the World Cup-winner was afforded his own minder in case the enthusiasm ebbed over. Hands are held out for high-fiving and backs slapped. Fans are hanging from lamp posts, leaning over balconies, perched on flat roofs.
Before a game you’ll see nothing else like it… anywhere.
The ritual reaches its crescendo moments before kick off when, with Jonny itching to get the game underway and with both sides in position and primed to let rip, the fans’ leader issues the Pilou Pilou.
Until a couple of years ago it was a battle cry which cost the hosts a fine of 1500 euros a game. The problem was that the call to arms was previously issued through a loud haler and they are banned in French grounds. But that never stopped them. Given it was so much part of the Toulon mystique that the club treasurer simply bit the bullet and posted off a cheque to the authorities every August in respect of the coming season.
Thankfully, modern methods have prevailed and the Toulon warrior is now plugged in to the stadium’s sound system.
It’s quite a thing.
ESPN rugby expert Martin Gillingham is the lead commentator for the broadcaster’s live coverage of the French rugby union championship, the Top 14. Visit espn.co.uk/tv for more informationTagged in: Manu Tuilagi, Rugby, rugby union, top 14, toulon, world cup
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