One of the great features of the Heineken Cup is the clash of cultures that rugby supporters get to witness as they follow their respective teams around Europe. It probably comes as no surprise that it manifests itself most in France.
In part, it is endearing — all the players from Toulouse and Wasps ran out onto the pitch holding the hand of a young mascot. Maybe Ulster could learn from this and include more children in their pre-match routine.
In part, it is shockingly unsportsmanlike — unlike Welford Road, Thomond Park, or Franklin Gardens there is zero respect afforded to visiting kickers. Instead, the drums beat and boos ring out across the stadium.
In contrast, home supporters build their claps and cheer into a drowning crescendo as their kicker meets the ball. Annoyingly, most of the time, it seems to work.
Finally, in part, it is downright barmy. This was exemplified last Saturday at halftime in Clermont’s match against Saracens. No brass bands, nobody pulled from the crowd to try to kick a conversion and win money. Instead, a man walked out with a pole vault. The crowd roared its approval. He approached the posts and threw the white sticks a cursory and rather desultory glance. He launched himself into a run and, yes, thrust the pole into the ground, propelled himself into the air and cleared the crossbar with perfect athletic technique. Landing on his feet, he did a backward role and came up to greet an exultant crowd.
All without a mat. Culturally different? These French are mad.