*DISCLAIMER - The events recounted below are recalled to the best of the writers ability, and no responsibility is accepted for the actual factual content...*
The late announcement of the fixtures meant that a last minute scramble for plane tickets ensued just before Christmas. Whilst a large contingent ended up on the Friday night Bristol to Bordeaux flight (which just so happened to also be the players flights), there were intrepid travelers flying from from Stansted, Luton, via Amsterdam, and some into Bergerac. With organisation only slightly less than that of a military operation, the annual shambolic decampment began.
Perhaps the first indication of what was to come was when one poor Dragon had his Airport Executive Lounge membership revoked in Bristol after taking "an unreasonable amount of scones" from said lounge to feed the hungry masses still in the bar. Miraculously, everyone managed to get on the flight, though with Gavin Henson sat three rows in front, the temptation to start throwing ice cubes was hard to resist.
Safe in Bordeaux (with the exception of this poor writer, who got stuck on the airport shuttle bus and wandered aimlessly around the city for 2 hours) refreshments were found, and a taste for Pastis regained.
Matchday dawned cold but clear, with a glorious view from the hotel over Bordeaux Cemetery (#102 thing to do in Bordeaux according to TripAdvisor). An early(ish) morning (ok, afternoon) walking tour of the city was undertaken, though the handy guide that one of the tourists had made did have the wrong pictures against the landmarks. Attached is the one cultured picture taken all weekend.
At 3pm, we set up base camp in the Connemara Pub, where we later met up with the "UBB Angels" (The UBB supporters club). I'm pretty sure there were songs and presentations, but I think the attached photo's tell a better story of the next few hours than my memory allows.
Off we trammed (I'm not sure if that's the right verb - "to tram?") to the ground for the dangerous 9pm start. The Stade Chaban Delmas is a very beautiful old stadium, and of course, one of the tourists had brought a list of facts:
- Built in 1930 as a cycle racing track
- Modified in 1935 for the football world cup
- First stadium in the world with no pillars (oh what luxury for us Hazell dwellers)
- The longest changing room tunnel in the world at 120 meters (Later verified by "Viz" the Dragons Logistics manager who had to cart all the gear down it...)
Also in place was a "moat" around the pitch, preventing any pitch invasions, scuppering our initial plans.
The game - what to say. Most had travelled with a fair bit of trepidation, but the Dragons gave a great account of themselves through the first half, and if truth be told, should have been further ahead. Whilst UBB took control in the second half, the frustrating thing was that this was a game that we could, and maybe even should have won. As we found out the next weekend, a bonus point would have been enough to see us through. Alas, it was not to be. Landman and Pretorius were the standout players for me, with an honourable mention to James Benjamin for taking the longest possible route to the tryline for his score.
So it was back to the Connemara for some, where old traditions were upheld, including the now mandatory 18 verses of Max Boyce's "Duw it's Hard" and for some reason, Art Garfunkle's "Bright Eyes". Suffice to say there were few of those the next day...
Monday came around, with the remnants of the decimated touring party heading back to the airport. Poor old Pretorius had stayed with his family for a few days and was also in the airport - and despite his best efforts, he couldn't extricate himself from one Dragon's tourist who bent his ear for several hours about how he used to play with Stuart Barnes at Bassaleg - no prizes for guessing who....
And so to bed...