Graceful Gaby The Centre Of Attention

The western Paris suburb of Rueil-Malmaison has had a few notable residents, perhaps the most famous being Napoleon Bonaparte and his beloved Joséphine.

Nestled on the banks of the Seine, and less than 20 km from Paris, the town, as well as its river banks and “guinguette” dance halls, became, at the end of the 19th century, a favourite setting for artists, including Monet, Renoir and Sisley.

But now there is a new artist emerging, French centre Gabrielle Vernier. Born in “Rueil” on 12 June 1997 she began training at the tender age of ten for Rueil Athletic Club. After spending four years at the club, where she developed her knowledge and passion for the game, she moved to Racing Club Nanterre as Rueil had no junior side.

After three years in Nanterre, Gaby continued her rugby journey northwards to Lille to pursue her academic studies and develop her game. In 2016, she made her senior debut for Lille MRCV and won the French championship during her first season at the club. This led to selection for France U20s and her senior international debut came one year later on 11 November 2017, in a match against Spain.

“My studies then took me to the north, to Lille, where I was able to combine my career as a student and a sportswoman. In 2016, I started my senior years at the LMRCV, club de villeneuve d’ascq. During these Lille years, I was lucky to be selected in the French team under 20 years old and then in the French Senior team the following year when I had the opportunity to make some appearances. Since 2018, I have been under a semi-professional contract with the French rugby federation”.

Gabrielle Vernier left Lille to join Blagnac Rugby Féminin where she currently plays her club rugby. “I wanted to change my air and challenge myself. It’s going really well. It is a dynamic club, with a very well-supervised group of young people. A real happiness! ” says the general engineering graduate.

The Rugby World Cup in New Zealand was an incredible experience especially that wonderful semi-final which France lost 25-24 to eventual winners New Zealand. Gaby’s 39th minute try shook the Black Ferns and gave France an unexpected half time lead.

She says she will never forget the memories lining up for her first le Marseillaise with the U20’s in Esher, and the second time in Mont-de-Marsan. “It’s the first time I played in front of so many people, it made a big impression on me.”

In her spare time she plays the saxophone and has certainly been hitting all the right notes in the Tik Tok Womens Six Nations tournament this year with three tries in the opening two games, one against Italy in Parma, and a pair in Cork against Ireland.

The combination of grace beauty and power that she possesses are in the French DNA database tapped into by of all the great centres that have worn that wonderful blue shirt, irrespective of their gender.

France face England in the next round of the Tik Tok Womens Six Nations and Gabrielle will be looking to engineer a try or two at Twickenham.


France Enter The Final Furlong To RWC 2023

With the Guinness Six Nations all over, for the men at least, the thoughts of Les Bleus now turn fully to the Rugby World Cup 2023 which is approaching at a rate of knots.

France fly half Romain Ntamack “The Six Nations is over, it was our last deadline before the Rugby World Cup so we now think about it more and more. We tell ourselves that the next time we get together it will be for real. It’s a little weird because we’ve had it in the back our minds for so long, we work for it, it’s getting closer but we must moderate this obsession”

The attritional Top 14 season ends on June 17 and eight days later the 42 man national squad assemble, when France embark on their initial training block at Carpiagne, a military training camp east of Marseille, from there they head to Monaco, before returning to the home comforts of Marcoussis. In August they head to Capbreton north of Biarritz for a few mouthfuls of Atlantic air.

France have four warm up matches prior to their opening RWC match against New Zealand. They face Scotland twice, at Murrayfield on 5th August, and again in Saint-Etienne on 12 August. They then entertain Fiji in Nantes on 19 August.

The final 33 man Rugby World squad is announced on 21 August, before the final warm up game against Australia at Stade de France in Paris on Sunday August 27.

After that final warm up game France will take up residence at Rueil-Malmaison in the Hauts-de-Seine for the duration of RWC 2023.

Fede Aramburú Paris Remembers The Murdered Puma

A tribute ceremony in memory of Federico Martin Aramburú shot dead in the early morning of Saturday March 19, 2022, took place last Sunday at 146 boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris. A moment of intense emotion and reflection in the presence of the family and loved ones of the former Biarritz player, murdered at the tender age of just 42.

Under the dark rainy crying skies of Paris a moving tribute was paid to Federico Martin Aramburú, killed in a drive-by shooting in the French capital’s chic Saint-Germain neighbourhood.

In the early hours of that fateful Saturday he and some friends got embroiled in a dispute with another group at a cafe. The argument appeared to have been settled but the men came back and fired at Aramburu, who was hit with three bullets.

Aramburu played as a centre and wing, winning 22 Argentina caps including at the 2007 World Cup in France, where he scored a try as the Pumas beat the hosts in the third-place playoff.

The ceremony on Sunday was organised by the City of Paris on the initiative of Pierre Rabadan, deputy mayor in charge of sport. Many personalities from the world of rugby attended including Stade Francais coach Gonzalo Quesada, Bernard Laporte and the ex-captain of France Guilhem Guirado.

Also in attendance were Federico’s Olympic Biarritz internationals Brusque, Thion, Traille, Couzinet, Yachvili, Thomas Lievremont, Dusautoir, Carizza and rugby legends Philippe Sella, Serge Blanco and Pascal Ondarts.

Current France scrum half scrum-half Maxime Lucu left the team Hôtel des Bleus to take part in the ceremony.

Aramaburu’s parents and other family members arrived from Argentina in the middle of the week. Cecilia Aramburú Federico’s mother, did not hide her disbelief in her son’s tragic death and spoke emotionally.

A stand alone temporary plaque brought by the family carried the message “Never again should a family be bereaved because of the ideas and hatred that nest in fanaticisms like that of the ‘far right”.

It refers to the two indicted individuals Loïk Le Priol and Romain Bouvier, far-right militants suspected of being the assassins. “We will always fight these ideas which led to this tragedy, swore Pierre Rabadan. I will denounce again and again identity ideology, racism. Federico Martin Aramburu will be a face of this fight. “Fede was in Paris to enjoy life in this district so emblematic of rugby. He was coldly murdered”

The ceremony ended with “Dale alegria a mi Corazon” (Bring joy to my heart” a composition by Fito Paez, beautifully sung by Maria Martin Aramburú widow of the former rugby player with her three-year-old son in her arms, her sunny smile a beacon of light under the dark skies of Paris.

Springtime In Paris France v Wales

I love Paris in the springtime.
I love Paris in the fall.
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles,
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles.

“I Love Paris” is a popular song written by Cole Porter and published in 1953, and it is very difficult to disagree with the lyrics. Paris is very easy to fall in love with.

I was here for France v Scotland in February, at an arctic Stade de France, so making a delightful return in March has taken me, and the Guinness Six Nations, on a journey from Winter to early spring, although the Cole Porter’s drizzle was very much evident after a beautifully sunny Parisian morning, and it had me thinking maybe Sacha Distel’s 70s hit Raindrops keep falling on my head would be a more apt musical analogy.

France v Wales is always a very special fixture. Back in the olden days, when I was young, this game invariably decided who won the championship with whoever had the home advantage that particular year usually ended up winning the title.

On Saturday in Paris, France and Wales were at totally different ends of the table, but it was Wales that started the brighter with a George North try after just 7 minutes. Penaud and Danty replied tries for France to give them a 20-7 half time lead, but it wasn’t the blue tsunami that many were expecting.

This band of Blue Brothers with an 80,000 backing group played with total disregard for Cole Porter’s seasonal lyrics, Romain Ntamack and Antoine DuPont sizzled and it wasn’t even summer, and when the entire ensemble were in tune they hit all the right notes in a glorious rugby medley.

Despite conceding two early second half tries to Atonio and Fickou, taking the score to 34-7, Wales refused to give in and two touchdowns of their own from replacements Bradley Roberts and Tomos Williams brought the score back to 34-21

Penaud went over in the 77th minute but Wales had the last word with a Rio Dyer try in the final minute, which Leigh Halfpenny converted to make the final score 41-28, a bonus point win for France, with Wales collecting a delightfully unexpected bonus point for scoring four tries.

As the fireworks drifted up into the early evening sky both sides turn their International thoughts fully to the Rugby World Cup to be held here in the republic in a few months time.

The drizzle continued at Cafe du Nord in a much more pleasant manner as the balsamic vinegar cascaded on to my accompanying side salad post match.

If Irish eyes were smiling then French ones were certainly grinning, whilst the Welsh visual organs were wide open staring at the task in front of them.

Defeat in Paris never seems quite as dreadful as it does anywhere else, Cole Porter was not alone in his love for this beautiful city as fans of every rugby playing nation will testify, I will leave the last word to Monsieur Porter himself.

Every time I look down on this timeless town
Whether blue or gray be her skies
Whether loud be her cheers, or whether soft be her tears
More and more do I realize that I love Paris in the spring time

Oh ! That Fellow Dupont

Ok let’s get this straight right from the start, no one, and I mean no one, has, does, or ever will draw comparison to Gareth Edwards as the greatest scrum half I have ever seen in that evocative and glorious number nine shirt.

It has been almost blasphemous where I come from to even whisper the possibility of anyone coming close to the grand master.

Some folks in the dark corners of smoke filled rooms have nervously whispered about pretenders to the throne, but those who were mentioned never quite reached the Edwards benchmark.

Many have tried but as clear as the Welsh Knight follows day no one has really come close.

But Father I have sinned, I find myself harbouring immoral thoughts that there just might be someone perilously close to reaching that exalted pedestal which the man from Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen occupies.

Lannemezan is a town in the Hautes-Pyrenees about 26,000 years old. It is situated between Tarbes and Toulouse with a population of less than 6,000 people, an unremarkable town that is the birthplace of a remarkable scrum half, Antoine Dupont the man who is lighting up the rugby world.

The small French town also produced Pierre Berbizier another outstanding number nine who also went on to become the National coach.

The superlatives keep coming for the 5ft 9ins scrum half, incidentally the same measurements as Sir Gareth, he has it all, speed, strength, can kick off both feet and is a superb passer of the ball.

I count myself extremely fortunate to have seen both players in the flesh, the first time I saw Gareth play was for Cardiff against the All Blacks in Cardiff as a fourteen year old, and my first glimpse of Antoine took place at a packed Stade de France in 2017, the 100 minute match between France and Wales refereed by Wayne Barnes, which France won 20-18 as a fifty nine year old, I’m pretty sure I won’t see another scrum half as wonderful as those two.

Come the end of the Rugby World Cup this Autumn we might just have to make that lofty pedestal a tandem for Edwards and Dupont and If the greatest writer of the written word would have written that story, no one would have believed it. Cliff would have agreed I’m sure.

Italy’s Brothers Off Tune As Wales Triumph In Rome

As National Anthems go, the Italian theme tune is as stirring as they come, and one of the best in the Guinness Six Nations.

Yesterday at the Stadio Olympic under sun drenched blue skies, Italy were looking to continue their progress as a team finally starting to live up to its musical counterpart.

Italy have always had a good anthem, but their rugby team have lagged behind their bel canto team mate in terms of quality and performance.

The opening lines of Goffredo Mameli’s composition could not be more apt, Fratelli d’Italia, L’Italia s’è desta (Brothers of Italy, Italy has awakened).

At the Stadio Olympic Italy’s awakening stalled as Wales finally dragged themselves from their winter rugby hibernation.

Rio started the carnival after 9 minutes with try following a chip ahead by Rhys Webb that gave the young Dyer the kindest of bounces.

Liam Williams beat four Italians on his way to the try line with 18 minutes on the clock before a 34th minute penalty try gave Wales a confidence boosting 22-3 half time lead.

Despite a 43rd minute Italian try from Sebastian Negri Italy continued to spurn chance after chance which was the theme of their afternoon, and a Taulupe Faletau try on 50 minutes, following a sumptuous break from man of the match Rhys Webb, gave Wales a comforting 29-10 lead with half an hour remaining.

As Wales began to look the more weary of the two sides an Juan Ignacio Brex try with 12 minutes remaining gave Italy hope, but Wales hung on to give earn a bonus point victory.

In the current climate this result has come as welcome oasis in a desert of turmoil, unrest, and mistrust back home. The victory will be rightly celebrated before thoughts turn to facing a rampant France on their home patch in a weeks time.

After France’ 53-10 demolition of England at Twickenham facing Les Bleus at Stade de France is a daunting prospect. Wales head to Nice today to start a weeks preparation on the Côte d’Azur, let’s hope they bring that Riviera touch to the capital on Saturday.

Black Isle Jade

It is fourteen miles from Inverness to Loch Ness, a place known around the world for its mythical monster, but Nessie’s neighbour is a sporting monster, and a very real one, that is frightening the life out of everything that crosses its path.

There have been many reported sightings this season, both north and south of the border, and the conclusion is that Nessie is a lightweight compared to the Inverness version.

I am in my cryptic way referring to Scotland and Harlequins number eight Jade Konkel-Roberts who has been knocking the living daylights out of the opposition since her return from a long term shoulder injury in the latter stages of 2018.

Jade made her Scotland Women debut against England when she came on as a replacement in the opening round of 2013 Six Nations, 53 caps later she is primed and ready for her first Rugby World Cup.

She became Scotland’s first full-time female player in 2016, and joined top French club Lille Metropole Rugby Club Villeneuvois in 2017.

After joining Harlequins in 2018 following shoulder surgery, she returned to international duty with only a handful of club games under her belt, and hit Canada like a guided missile,

Scotland lost on that occasion but Jade had a storming game tacking, as the great Bill McClaren once said “Like the crack of doom” and launching those “Rhino” charges from the base of the scrum as if her life depended upon it.

Jade Konkel was born on December 9 1993 in Inverness, and lived on the Black Isle an appropriately named location for any respectable monster to reside. Inverness lies on the Great Glen Fault, where there are minor earthquakes, usually unnoticed by locals, about every 3 years, I have a theory they nearly always occur when Jade is home doing some tackling practice, but geological confirmation is difficult to come by.

Fortunately off the field Jade is one of the most modest and friendly individuals you could wish to meet, a smile is always close to hand, and her soft highland brogue could charm the birds from the trees.

The basketball skills honed at the top level following two seasons with the Highland Bears, are evident on the rugby field, I do not recall witnessing her drop a single ball during last season’s Allianz Premiership campaign, where she has wore the Harlequins shirt with such pride and passion.

The dictionary definition of Jade is ” A semi precious stone” maybe that should now be changed to “An extremely precious Scottish rugby player”, a monsterous Rugby World Cup awaits.

Force Of Nature Giada Franco

Naples is no stranger to seismic activity, Mount Vesuvius is the only volcano to have erupted on mainland Europe in the last one hundred years.

Situated on the breath-taking gulf of Naples, it has a majesty, beauty and power that showcases nature in all its terror and wonderment.

The last eruption came in 1944, although in 1996, another force of nature was about to enter the local landscape, Giada Franco.

The family moved 54 kilometres south east, along the Amalfi coast, to settle in Salerno, a lively port with a relaxing Mediterranean ambiance, and an historic town full of tiny little passageways and hidden corners.

The bubbly Italian started playing rugby aged 13 at school, before starting senior rugby with Colerno, just north of Parma, in the Emilia-Romagna region.

Many have felt the aftershock of the dark haired flanker’s rib shattering tackles, and her eruptions, unlike Vesuvius, are now taking place weekly at training and on match days.

Away from rugby the young lady of Naples is a big fan of “Le vechia signora”(The old lady of Turin) which for the uninitiated,  is the nickname of Juventus football club, one of the giants of the game.

A firm fixture in the national side, Giada made her  international debut in the 2018 Six Nations in Dublin,

One of her most memorable moments came at the Principality Stadium in the Six Nations double header against Wales in 2018, when the “Azzura Assasin” played a blinder, it was the first time I had seen her play, she made a huge impression and has been a permanent fixture in the national team ever since.

Following her stint in England with Harlequins she joined the Colorno club back home.

Colorno is a comune in the Province of Parma in the Italian region Emilia-Romagna, located about 90 kilometres (56 mi) northwest of Bologna and about 15 kilometres (9 mi) north of Parma.

She enjoyed her time in England with Harlequins but she did admit to missing the sunshine and the gastronomical delights of home, particularly “Bistecca alla Fiorentina” which is a thick cut of porterhouse steak from an ancient breed of Tuscan cattle, instead of inches, these steaks are measured in fingers, and a good one will be 3-4 fingers thick, and Giada insists they don’t forget the fries.

Giada says “It was a fantastic experience, in England I experienced a totally different way of seeing rugby, especially women’s rugby. In addition to the very high level of play, there is a great organization behind the championship, structured to perfection and very competitive … Then the Harlequins are a fantastic club. I’m sorry that this experience ended prematurely because of the covid. ”

The “Leonessa di Colorno”, a nickname derived from her determination and those luscious locks, will be prominent on and off the field in New Zealand, and whatever happens that wonderful smile will never be too far away.

RWC 21 ITV’s Nolli Waterman

An established broadcaster, Nolli Waterman will be part of ITV’s 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup coverage as it offers UK-wide, free to air coverage of the tournament. For the very first time, a UK broadcaster will show all games live in a Women’s Rugby World Cup on free to air television, with matches shown across ITV and ITV4.

Some of you may not know just how good a rugby player Nolli actually was. On the the southern edges of the South-West coast her daring deeds are spoken of in reverential terms.

When the mist rolls in off the Bristol Channel on a cold winters night, the folks that inhabit The Old Ship Aground pub in Minehead tell tales that send shivers down your spine, tales of shipwrecks and smugglers, tales of peril and tragedy in the local waters that have one of the highest tidal ranges in the world.

Inevitably as the night gets darker, and the ale more plentiful, the tales get taller, as indeed do the stories of local heroes who have become legends, largely through many misty ale soaked nights where the thin line between fact and fiction is breached.

One local legend is immune from such treatment, a local Barbarian whose exploits are so incredible in their own right, there is no need for embellishment, even fiction writer Arthur C Clarke, also born in Minehead, would have difficulty making these tales taller, even ale assisted.

Rugby can be a brutal and unforgiving sport but every now and then a player arrives on the scene that can raise the game above the ordinary, a player who amid the bump and grind of top-level sport, manages to make the difficult look easy, a player whose skill and execution provided a sheer beauty, grace and elegance that warmed the soul, set our pulses racing, a player that appeared to have more time and space than those around them, Danielle Waterman was such a player.

A red rose that could always be guaranteed to bloom, whatever the weather, whatever the soil conditions, she graced the white shirt on eighty-two occasions.

It is impossible to calculate how many girls and women have been inspired to take up the game by watching her, but I have witnessed first hand the  “Nolli Effect” around the playing fields of Europe.

She was renowned for her bravery on the field, but perhaps even more noteworthy is her bravery off it, for being part of the RPA “Lift The Weight” campaign and discussing her depression candidly, typically, not for her own benefit, but through a desire to help others who may or have suffered similarly.

Danielle Waterman’s list of achievements make impressive reading, a Rugby World Cup winner in 2014, nomination for World Player of the Year, a member of the first ever Team GB Rugby Sevens squad to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Nolli captained England A at the tender age of seventeen, and made her full England debut in 2003 whilst revising for her A levels, aged just eighteen.

But in the years to come we will not be discussing the cold statistics, it will be that sidestep, that tackle, or the unique running style, and that joyous smile after scoring a try or making a last ditch tackle.

So if you ever happen to visit “The Ship Aground” on a damp misty moonlit night and you notice the locals huddled together speaking in hushed tones, they may well be telling tales of horticulture, or to be specific their favourite local Red Rose.

RWC 21 Meet ITV’s Deborah McCormack

Debs McCormack Scores A Try Against Spain In A 2016 Rugby World Cup Qualifier

Locks can be bruising abrasive and sombre characters, it is a dark desolate unforgiving place in the second row, and the lack of daylight no doubt plays a huge part in their demeanour, but in this case Debs McCormack is a friendly modest and down to earth IT specialist, who plied her club trade with Harlequins, and of course internationally in the dark blue shirt of Scotland.

This particular flower of Scotland was a rare species, that bloomed in winter, for club and country, and sent many an opponent homeward to think again.

The deep roots of this bloom stretch a very long way, all the way from Scotland to the more temperate climate of Kent, a long way south of the border.

She qualified to play for Scotland through her gran, who left Motherwell during the Second World War and headed to London to bravely help the war effort, there could surely be no be no worthier qualification criteria than that.

Born in Gillingham, Debs started playing at the age of ten for Medway RFC, when her brother also began to turn out for the club.

She was encouraged by coach Karen Findlay, whilst at Richmond, to attend Scottish trials which with the extortionate travel costs for a starving student left her deeply out-of-pocket, but the rest as they say is history, and she made her Scotland debut against Ireland in the 2014 six nations.

A former Fort Pitt Grammer school pupil, Debs views Medway RFC as the greatest influence on her career.

She was a hugely popular figure at Harlequins, where her down to earth and friendly manner, as well as her playing ability, earned her huge respect and popularity.

Retirement, and knowing when the time is right to retire, is undoubtedly one the hardest moments of anyone’s sporting career, even when it is decided on one’s own terms.

Debs McCormack did everything on her own terms during a long club and international career, so it came as no surprise that when it the agonising moment of dealing with sporting retirement arrived, in 2019, she had the strength of character, and the wisdom, to make that difficult decision.

I have been extremely fortunate to have met and watched some of the greats of the game, and with my hand on my heart I can honestly say I have never come across a greater team player than Debs.

Compliments and praise, even when they were justified and worthy, never sat easily on her modest and very sore shoulders, I don’t think Debs will ever realise just how good a player she was, or indeed how popular she was with team mates, fans, and journalists alike, only because that does not fit in with the humble way in which she operated.

Rugby, and in particular the women’s game, has benefited from her legacy, those following in her wake will find the path that little bit smoother, thanks to her and others.

Debs epitomised and displayed everything that is good about our wonderful game, she respected and demonstrated its values with honour, and there is no greater compliment I can pay her than that.

I count myself fortunate that I was able to witness at close hand the latter part of her rugby playing journey, including her 30th Scottish cap, which at one stage we both believed was cursed. But come it did, eventually, against France in Lille, in the 75th minute, a moment I witnessed in a Parisian hotel on a dodgy French television set. I’m pretty it was sure it was my endless shouting at the screen that finally convinced Scotland coach, Shade Munro, to bring Debs off the bench.

How she balanced university, a job and elite rugby I have absolutely no idea, but she did so with apolomb, and despite the huge demands on her Debs always still found time for everyone who needed a chat, an encouraging word, or just a smile.

Rugby gave her a lot, but in return she also gave rugby everything she had, Harlequins and Scotland were the lucky recipients of her unconditional loyalty. Debs was never one to make a fuss, even during a long injury spell when diagnosis of the problem proved elusive, in fact her shoulder still isn’t right, and it was one of the factors in her decision to retire.

31 caps for Scotland and 23 competitive appearances for Harlequins, including two Tyrrells Premiership finals, reveal the impressive bare facts, but her rugby career was about far more than that.

A try for Scotland against Spain in a World Cup qualifier, and tries in the semi final and final of the 2017 Tyrrells Premiership for Harlequins are wonderful memorable moments, as indeed was her hat- trick of tries on the other side of the world in Australia for Sydney outfit Eastern Suburbs against Wollongong, a performance that earned her a place in the Shute Shield team of the week.

Debs last ever try was scored for Harlequins v Darlington Mowden Park Sharks at Surrey Sports Park on Saturday 18 January 30th 2020 at approximately 1.35pm, her 70th minute touchdown was greeted with much delight by the home crowd and indeed by the match announcer that day a certain Mike Pearce.

Jade Konkel currently in New Zealand preparing for Scotland’s opening Rugby World Cup match against Wales spent a large part of her career having her right ear eroded by Debs’ hip bone, as number 8 for Harlequins and Scotland and sums things up perfectly.

“Debs was one of a kind, a team mate who was always there for me no matter what. Even just for a cup of tea in the evenings. She was an incredible player, team mate and friend who I miss hugely on the field of play”.

Debs is part of ITV’s television coverage of the tournament, her warmth, knowledge and friendliness have transferred wonderfully to the small screen in an instant, and if you are looking for an Agent after the tournament Debs I’ll happily settle for 10%.