The Book

I admit it. When it comes to France, I’m a Francophile, romantic and dreamer, and this is a story about my love affair with the country, its people and the great French rugby team of the 1980s, a team of sporting icons who loved, fought and celebrated their good fortune together for over a decade.

The players were a band of brothers from a golden generation who dazzled the rugby-loving world with their skill and unpredictability. It was their French flair that is woven inextricably into my memory like a first love, undimmed by the passing of time. The excitement of watching Blanco, Codorniou and Sella flowing gracefully through space, unlocking opposition defences with their pace, pirouettes and passing; or the swashbuckling bravery of the free-spirited and heroic Rives, fizzing, ubiquitous, blood-stained and smashing people with a force belying his size; and the marauding beauty and power of Laurent Rodriguez, the bull from Dax, vanquishing his matador adversaries to create space for the fleet-footed behind. If anything, the memories and feelings are even sharper now, honed and no doubt embellished during the passage of time.

If Wales was the team of the ‘70s, France deserved that accolade in the ‘80s. They brought poetry to this sporting battlefield with their mix of flair and brute force.

But the course of true love never did run smooth and theirs is also a story ruptured by rivalry, politics, tragedy and death.

Part chronicle, part dialogue and part travelogue, Brothers in Arms is a personalised account of my travels to track them down, meet them and discover their life adventure. I have gone straight to the players themselves to find out what they have become. What were the great sporting moments and anecdotes, what are the players doing today, what are they like, what do they think and what have been their highs and lows?

I have also gathered insights and opinions from the crème de la crème of former international players and coaches such as Andre Boniface, Jo Maso, Raphael Ibanez, Daniel Herrero, Pierre Villepreux, Sean Fitzpatrick, Michel Lynagh, Gavin Hastings, Ieuan Evans, Will Carling, Brian Moore, John Kirwan, Hugo MacNeil and many more.

 

 

Overlaying the players’ personal stories are my own anecdotes of travelling, working, living, playing and studying in France over the last the last 35 years, and recounting the richness of experiences that unfolded: working and living in the Alps during the 1992 winter Olympics, experiencing the wild frontier of French gastronomy, tasting wine with France’s greatest wine growers, watching bull fighting, playing rugby for 3 different rugby clubs, living at the heart of a French family, meeting the godsons of Pablo Picasso and Albert Gleize, and generally enjoying everything that France had to offer me. 

This book is about former rugby icons but it is about far more than just rugby. It is about life and its kaleidoscope of colours. Where a story has marked me, I have included it. Some are very personal but most are linked in some way to the heart of the subject matter – that great French team.

In October 2017, as self-appointed chairman of selectors, I named a coach and 32 iconic French players in my squad, and I spent 18 months getting to know them, experiencing their warmth and generosity, and capturing their spirit. 

Please join me on my personal journey to discover France through my quixotic lens. I hope you enjoy all the memories, stories and photos about France, rugby and life.

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