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Audience Participation Rugby Biarritz and Bayonne...

March 24, 2020 4 min read

Pitch invaders aren’t to be encouraged, acknowledges Rugby Rugby’s Howard Johnson – except when it’s so hilarious it’s a YouTube Sensation

Now I know that we were all supposed to wring our hands and speak out indignantly about the shame that had been heaped on our great sport in the aftermath of one of French rugby's more remarkable moments in recent times. But when Lucien Harinordoquy opted to get out of his comfy chair to come to the aid of his poor little lad Imanol after things got a bit testy in the French league Basque derby between Biarritz and Bayonne the other day, I'm absolutely sure I'm not the only one who found the whole affair totally hilarious.

What on earth got into old man Lucien? Apart from half a dozen glasses of Pastis during aperitifs before the game, perhaps. The idea that any gentleman of a certain age should take it upon himself to start throwing punches on a rugby field while wearing his civvies is ridiculous enough. But to do it in the sixth minute of a professional, televised encounter – and a white-hot derby at that – goes way beyond crazy. Did Lucien think that his boy somehow wouldn't be able to give as good as he got? Because let's face it, Imanol is a man who's never looked too vulnerable on a rugby field and has always given the impression that he can handle himself well enough. And even if Papa Harinordoquy was genuinely concerned that his boy was about to get a leathering, in what universe would a bespectacled old boy in a pair of Hush Puppies be able to help?

Dear old Lucien was clearly suffering from that well-known male disease, Red Mist, where a relatively innocuous sporting incident can lead to a temporary loss of all reason. Poor fella. We've all been there. I myself got involved in an altercation (verbal, not physical) with another French legend, Fabien Galthié, in an incident that former England lock Ben Kay described as “the funniest thing I've seen in my whole career”. Oh, the shame! But in some ways Lucien was a lucky chap. Lucky that Biarritz hooker Benoit August quickly recognised exactly who this old fool who'd just invaded the pitch actually was. Without August's swift intervention and a quiet word about whose dad loony Lucien was, well it looked for all the world like Bayonne fly half Benjamin Boyet was going to knock the silly old sod's block off.

Now that the blood has cooled somewhat Harinordoquy Senior has come to his senses and issued an unreserved apology for his moment of madness. Imanol himself has wisely kept his own counsel. But Bayonne President Michel Cacouault is apparently not prepared to let sleeping dogs lie and is pressing on with a complaint to the French rugby federation regarding the unanticipated pitch invasion. Maybe the saga isn't over for Lucien Harinordoquy after all. But what is certain is that 31-year-old Imanol will surely be reminded of this ridiculous – and humiliating – moment for months to come. Can you imagine the ear-bending and mickey-taking that's going to be coming his way whenever he finds himself at the bottom of a ruck in future? 'Your dad's not here to protect you today, son' will be just about the most polite comment the French international will get, I can assure you. For rucks and mauls are always where the daftest behaviour on a rugby pitch is most likely to be found. I remember the story of former Italian scrum half Paul Griffen, he of the interesting dreadlock/enormous sideburns comb back in the mid 2000s, and the irresistible temptation he offered to England players, who took full advantage of any mass of bodies to yank whatever bit of excessive hair they could lay their hands on “just to let him know we were about”. The cry of 'Not the hair! Not the hair!' was frequently heard from the Italian camp – and was every bit as frequently ignored, of course!

But the best story of all has to be the one concerning England legend Martin Johnson's first ever encounter with French hero Serge Betsen. Fearsome competitors both, Johno told me about the first time he played against Betsen and they both ended up at the bottom of a ruck. As the ball was moved away for the next phase of play and players started to get to their feet again, Johnson explained how he suddenly felt an eye-watering pain in the lower regions as he tried to stand. Looking down to find out the root cause of his severe discomfort, nobody was more surprised than the England captain to see the French flanker stopping him rising by using the novel tactic of yanking down hard on his scrotum!

'And what did you do?' I asked, wide-eyed and doubling up with laughter at one and the same time? 'Well I gave him a clump and got on with the game!' As you do!

Armed with this knowledge you do have to wonder whether M. Harinordoquy Snr might think twice before getting involved again. Imagine that happening to a man of a certain age! It might prove fatal!