Paris seems to be centre of all things sporting at the moment, with the Women’s Football World Cup seeing plenty of action at Parc des Princes, the HSBC World Sevens enjoying a glorious weekend at Stade Jean Bouin, and Rafa Nadal barely having time to re-align his water bottles following his French open victory, before the folks from Clermont and Toulouse invaded the city of lights for the Top 14 Final at Stade de France.
Yellow vests have been visible for quite some time in the French capital, but the ones that headed north from the Auvergne on Saturday were a much more amicable bunch than had recently been seen on the boulevards and avenues.
Yellow continues to be the colour of the capital, as in a few weeks a bloke riding a bicycle whilst sipping champagne, will be doing a few laps around the Champs- Elysees also wearing a yellow shirt.
But it was not all yellow on Saturday, there was plenty of rouge et noir, or red and white to those us who found CSE French a little challenging.
The TGV’s unloaded their southern French human cargo at Gare de Lyon and Gare Montparnasse from the early hours, and with an 8.45pm kick off, (subsequently delayed due to President Macron’s eternal hand shaking) the bars and cafes stretching up to the northern suburbs of Saint Denis, shimmered in the summer sunshine as the espresso’s and Kronenberg’s were delivered at a pace.
La Ville Rose, The Pink City, or to give it its proper title Toulouse, is a proper rugby town, it is also the centre of the European aerospace industry but this season their rugby team is flying almost as high as their Airbus A320’s.
Toulouse citizens swapped the banks of the gorgeous Garonne for the sunny Seine, the red berets dreaming once again of Top 14 glory, and after a season of playing some glorious attacking rugby they beat Clermont in a pulsating final.
Thirty two year old Yoann Huget rolled back the years, and pinned back the ears, to score two tries for Toulouse in the 28th and 55th minutes whilst Clermont relied on six penalties, five of which came from the boot of Greg Laidlaw, failing to cross the rouge et noir try line.
The Top 14 gets a lot of stick outside of France, and indeed inside it, but those who don’t quite get the it, should attend a final, it embraces every art form, in glorious technicolor under azure skies, and it is it about much more than rugby, the first French championship final took place in 1892 and was won by Racing, the trip to Paris for the final has become a right of passage handed down from grandfathers and fathers to their sons and grandsons, the new generations temporarily hold the legacy before passing on the baton.
Paris was painted red on Saturday night, the long day irrelevant to the victors, but for the losers the fatigue kicked in, for players and fans alike, the moment Jerome Garces blew the final whistle.
The chartered train bringing Clermont fans to Paris for the day was due to arrive back home at 0446 on Sunday morning, the Michelin men will be disappointed and exhausted but boy will they have some stories to tell and some great memories to cherish, that is what the Top 14 is all about.
After ten long months the Top 14 season has come to a close, although down south in Toulouse the celebrations may well continue for quite some time.