"I speak to my front row friends Philippe Dintrans and Jean-Pierre Garuet every day. We are like brothers. That friendship has developed over 40 years and is worth more than the price of gold."
I arrived at the Loreak on the outskirts of Bayonne where I met Pascal on his favourite raised table, La Table de Robert, on the left, beyond the bar. A picture was hanging next to it to commemorate Robert, a friend of his who had died recently. His loyalty and friendship was a recurring theme throughout my time with him.
His features struck me immediately. Here is a Basque man of pure sang, broad chested and stocky, with pronounced eyelids and a face both chiselled and worn by a thousand scrums. He has a square jaw and gladiator’s nose, but his ears, teeth and hair are all in good shape, and he has a magnificent chin dimple.
He greeted me warmly: "Ah, thank God you speak good French. I was worried I would have to speak English! In fact, I think you speak better French than me!"
His first cap was a baptism of fire, the so-called Battle of Nantes against the All Blacks in 1986. But to get selected, Pascal first had to play very well for his regional team, Côte Basque against the ABs, in the mid-week game under lights and in front of 12,000 people at the mythical Jean Dauger stadium in Bayonne. It was the sort of crowd and atmosphere that epitomised the blood and thunder of rugby in the pre professional era – a stadium packed to the rafters with people sitting on the walls and filling every available space. The crowd was big, noisy and tribal, lubricated by pastis and local wine, the air infused with the odour of gauloises cigarettes and merguez sausages. The Jean Dauger stadium was smoking hot in anticipation. Pascal didn’t disappoint and he was selected for his first test cap the following Saturday.
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