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Rugby Visit: Cowbridge families discover hidden twinning gem

The report below was written by Tim Griffin following the visit of the Cowbridge Rugby Club Under 13's to Clisson

rugby teams in the bar

To coincide with Wales’ opening game the Rugby World Cup at nearby Nantes, the Cowbridge RFC Under 13’s visited their twin town of Clisson, to explore the area, make new friends, and play some rugby against their local counterparts. Most visitors to the west of France are usually too busy heading further south to the long sandy beaches of the Charente and Basque coasts, or to the rural idyll that is the Dordogne, and so have little time to stop and explore along the way. Thus the charming and hospitable town of Clisson situated in the middle of the Muscadet producing area was a complete unknown quantity to most of the party.

 The trip started with an overnight crossing from Portsmouth to St Malo that served to calm down the frayed nerves from battling the busy UK motorway system. With a flat calm sea, and a spectacular sunset as backdrop, the rear deck of the MV Bretagne was quickly colonised by the Cowbridge group to watch the sun set slowly over the Isle of Wight.

 Brilliant sunshine met the ship as it docked in St Malo, and the convoy of 18 vehicles made swift work of the 2 hour drive to Clisson. The group had gambled on September being warm, and had decided to camp at the municipal camp site in Clisson. Upon arrival the group were met with what was to be the first of many welcoming acts of the long weekend, Clisson rugby club had erected a large marquee complete with tables and chairs for the group to use as a dining area. Having pitched tents, the group walked into Clisson town centre, where strong coffees and luscious baguettes were much appreciated by the hungry horde. Before everyone made themselves too comfortable, the coaches decided to give the boys a training session in order to use up their excess energy, whilst the rest of the group prepared the evening meal on the large barbeques at the camp site. The training took place at the local stade municipale, where coaches and players alike were surprised to find a number of superbly tended pitches, all weather running track, and grandstand, facilities that similar sized towns in Wales could only ever dream of!

Back at the campsite, the president of the Clisson-Cowbridge Twinning Committee had called, and left vast quantities of various local wines, including some interesting local reds. By now it was quickly becoming apparent that there existed a huge reservoir of goodwill towards Cowbridge by the twin town residents, and that the group were benefiting hugely from the good work that had been put in over the years from the twinning committees in both towns. Following a meal around the camp fire, the group returned to Clisson rugby club to watch the opening game of the tournament, featuring France against Argentina. The boys and parents arrived just as the whole clubhouse seemed to be belting out La Marseillaise, but as Argentina soon started to impose their grip on the game the club become more and more silent. As soon as the game finished however, the Welsh visitors were the centre of attention, with introductions being made, and friendships formed over the next few hours.

 The first night under canvas went well, with everyone catching up on lost sleep. The mottled sunlight shining through the tree canopy made for a gentle awakening, and the unique taste of food cooked out of doors soon stirred the most reluctant risers. Suitably fortified, various groups again walked into Clisson to discover more about this pretty and compact town. The narrow winding streets, and the picturesque area where the rivers Servre and Moine meet was a natural congregating point. Overlooked by an impressive castle, the town had been partially rebuilt in the 18th century in an Italian style, thus lending a Mediterranean feel to the place. With interesting walks along the river Servre, the group were able to relax before the main business of the day, the matches between the two rugby clubs. As reported in last week’s Gem, the Cowbridge boys won the rugby, and it was then time for the Clisson parents to respond to the challenge from the Cowbridge parents for a match of boules. This tournament continued well into the night until bad light stopped play, by which time the club had set up a huge barbeque with salads for the by now hungry visitors. The whole tenor of the evening was of extending the entente cordiale, and discovering more about each other. One of the more memorable sights of the tour were the two groups of players spontaneously mixing, and chatting in pigeon French and English, and it was a tired group of visitors that stumbled their way through the town back to the camp site.

 By now the hospitality was starting to affect the sleep patterns of the Cowbridge parents, and there were not as many early risers on the Sunday as there had been on the Saturday. Half the group decided to travel into Nantes to watch the Wales v Canada game, the other half elected to stay in Clisson to watch the game at a local rugby mad bar. In addition, the Clisson coach, Eric van daele had arranged for the Hotel de la Gare to open its restaurant, as seasoned travellers to France will know it is very difficult to find hostelries open on a Sunday in France. The coach and his wife ran a shuttle service between the hotel and bar, where the locals were fully supporting les rouges. Once again new friends were made, and some of the players from Clisson turned up with their families to see the group again. One local in particular who claimed he was a professional photographer, took a shine to one of the mothers who politely declined his offer to sign her up, and who is probably still now looking for the bogus web site he was given! The Welsh win was well received by all, and it took many hours for some of the fathers to finally free themselves from the local warmth.

 The final morning was still more difficult for the weary party to show their faces. Again a warm and bright start to the day made the last breakfast a memorable affair, and by midday the party had all packed up, and were on their way to catch the 17:30 fast ferry from Cherbourg to Portsmouth. The return journey was uneventful, and the party arrived safely back in Cowbridge with the boys fully prepared for school the next morning.

 The whole trip was much more than a rugby tour, and the boys in particular were given a unique insight into French life that can only help them become members of wider European society. Most of the parents had never been to Clisson before, and they were unanimous in their praise for the pretty town and its hospitable people. Without doubt the Cowbridge Twin Town Association have chosen wisely in twinning with Clisson, and have established a good rapport with their opposite numbers to ensure that the mutual affection between the towns continues to grow. They also made a generous contribution to the trip, that augmented the fundraising efforts of Keri Haines and Esther Hitchcock. The huge cast of helpful Clissonais were headed by rugby coach Eric van daele and Twinning Committee Chairman Gilles Renoul.

 The seeds of friendship between the two groups of youngsters have clearly already been established, as the exchanges of emails has shown, and the Cowbridge boys have issued an invitation to Clisson rugby club juniors to visit Cowbridge next March, coinciding with the French visit to Cardiff in the Six Nations.