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French Rugby Column December 7 || By: Howard Johnson

April 24, 2020 2 min read

I’m getting something of a reputation round these parts. A good one, I
hasten to add. After Albi’s convincing 20-9 defeat of Biarritz on Sunday
I suspect I might be getting a few more invitations to go to the match
in future. After all, I’ve only been to see the rugby at the Stade
Municipal on two occasions this season. But it just so happens that my
two visits have coincided with two of the three home wins of the
campaign so far for ‘les Albigeois.’ Looks like I’m something of a good
luck charm!

What had started out as something of a depressing Sunday doing battle with one of my sons over his absolute unwillingness to apply himself to his homework ended up as a very pleasant day of eating, drinking and making merry with half a dozen
friends before watching a plucky display from the men in black and
gold. The headmaster of the local school, a man with a couple of Albi
season tickets and a rather fetching beret, had a spare place going
and after a quick phone call it appeared that I had been chosen to be
the lucky beneficiary.

In the light of the match I got to see, you got the feeling that some of
the Biarritz boys might actually have preferred to be at home trying to
coax their own offspring to do their homework. The game had almost
been cancelled on account of a suspected outburst of swine flu – the
dreaded ‘grippe A’ – at the Albi club. But for whatever reason the
game went ahead and it was Biarritz who looked most under the
weather, with former French internationals Jerome Thion, Julien
Peyrelonge and Dimitri Yachvili performing in a decidedly lethargic
manner. Albi hassled and harried like they always do, never allowing
the visitors to settle into any kind of rhythm. But what was most
pleasing for the home supporters was that their team also showed no
little amount of skill and invention, while working a lineout that was as
solid as any I’ve seen this season.

The win moves the club on to 19 points with 15 games played so far
this season. Eric Bechu’s side is by no means safe and there’s still a
gargantuan amount of work to be done if Albi are to remain in the Top
14. But if ever there was a 100% underdog with a true underdog
spirit, then Albi would be it. This is a club that has little in the way of
budget or standing within the French game, yet which continually
manages to punch above its weight and extract the absolute maximum
from its admittedly limited playing resources. What Albi lack in ability
they do their utmost to make up for in heart, soul and collective spirit,
which the far more glamorous and reputed Biarritz found to their cost
this weekend.

Of course I particularly enjoyed taking all the credit for Albi’s win and
managed to extract one or two beers in the bar afterwards as due
recompense for my input. Surely all I need to do now is wait for the
phone to start ringing with offers of free tickets for the forthcoming
matches!