Serge Blanco

The Basque Alchemist

“Playing against South Africa in 1980 was a big moment for me. I always wondered whether I was selected because I was good enough or because I was a man of colour. I thought that the only way to find out was to go to see what was happening.”

Driving to Hendaye, south from St Jean de Luz in the southwest corner of France and deep into the heart of French Basque country, you exit the main road and take the wonderfully named Bretelle de Socoa which heads North West towards the coast. Soon afterwards, you join the Route de Corniche where the Atlantic opens up in front of you, an expanse of deep, brooding blue. I raced along the coastal road in my cabriolet and Fleetwood Mac booming out from the radio: ‘Listen to the wind on the water, Listen to the waves upon the shore…’. It was the 23rd of November but the sunlight was dazzling and the temperature still 23 degrees. I had nothing in my diary today, except a long lunch with the great Serge Blanco. Que la vie est belle, I thought. These are experiences that money can’t buy.

Other than perhaps David Campese, as a player, Serge Blanco had no peers during his 12 years playing for France. He was that good. But post career, in the world of bon vivants, it was different. I may have been an average rugby player but he looked at me across the lunch table and he knew, and he knew that I knew, that he had some serious competition, what some of my friends would describe as ‘world class’. Game on, I thought. We clearly both enjoyed friendship, food and wine, two epicureans ready to spend 2-3 hours discussing rugby, food and life. This was going to be a memorable lunch.

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