Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

France ready to get an Eiffel of world rugby

A countdown that began way back on September 4, 2004, when Andorra defeated Norway 76-3 in the opening qualifying game to reduce 86 countries to 20, finally runs down tonight as France gears up for le big kick-off to le Cup de Monde.

For a country where rugby once used to be confined to the passionate south west, France already seems eager to embrace the tournament.

French sports newspaper L'Equipe, normally dominated by football, has lead with build-up stories to the rugby showpiece all week.

The Eiffel Tower has been adorned with a giant rugby ball and last night was lit up in the colours of the IRB Rugby World Cup as it briefly became the Tower of Power while firework displays lit up the Parisian sky at La Defense.

Meanwhile, a Paris metro station has been transformed into a rugby venue for a few days. Commuters can participate in several activities on the inflatable rugby pitch that has been installed at the Auber station.

Former players and rugby celebrities will be available to pose for photos while some of the greatest moments in French rugby history will be screened at the specially constructed cinema.

La Poste, the French post service, is selling animated rugby stamps featuring the 10 host venues. The picture changes when viewed from different angles, giving the impression of a player converting a penalty.

And similar events to those in Paris are being replicated across Nantes, St Denis, Paris, Lens, Lyons, St Etienne, Marseilles, Montpellier, Toulouse, and Ireland's base city Bordeaux.

Marseilles has adopted a New Zealand theme to their city during the mighty All Blacks stay.

Le Prado beach will be the venue for several activities with a New Zealand flavour, including beach rugby, Maori art displays, an initiation to the haka, traditional body painting, and a Polynesian canoe race.

And while it's just a five-minute bus ride from the Samoa team's hotel in leafy Neuilly-sur-Seine to their training ground in nearby Courbevoie, yesterday morning Michael Jones' squad saved even more time by doing a bit of line-out practice on the pavement nearby much to the surprise of the locals.

Down in Bordeaux, the city dignitaries put on a official welcome ceremony for Ireland's arrival at the airport on Wednesday, complete with schoolchildren from a local rugby club in le Bouscat, the nearby suburb where Ireland will train at the Stade Saint Germaine, waving both Irish Tricolours and Ulster flags, a gesture of political correctness that you would be pushed to find back home.

There was a plaque inscribed with the word "bienvenue" from the delegation from the Comité de Côte d'Argent et Landes for Brian O'Driscoll as well as a maroon beret and the Ireland captain no doubt enjoyed the fact that all the luggage stickers bore the initials BOD.

The glorious conditions have also added to the sense of occasion, although I suspect the Ireland squad may soon feel a sense of cabin fever given the location of their hotel in a business park to the north of the city.

A far cry from the stunning seaside location that greeted the squad four years ago in the resort of Terrigal, two hours north of Sydney although the opportunity for an early morning dip still exists in the nearby lake.

Meanwhile in the city, the invasion of Irish supporters remains unabated and the four Irish bars in the city centre, including the Molly Malone, will no doubt be full to the rafters.

The waiting is over. Let the party begin.

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