Rugby World CupWorld Cup diary

Gerry Thornley’s World Cup diary: On the trail of the makeshift press conferences

It’s hot and sticky in the university city of Tours but, okay, it’s not all bad so far

Okay, not going to lie. Writing this from a table in La Manufacture bar and restaurant looking onto Place Plumereau in Vieaux Tours (Old Tours) with a glass of wine after lunch. Okay, a second glass.

This is the calm part. The World Cup’s hors d’oeuvres. To the right is another bar/restaurant. It’s Wednesday, it’s 6pm and it’s 35 degrees. It’s been fry-an-egg-on-the-pavement all week, yet it never ceases to amaze now the French always seem to look cool and perspiration free.

And this university city seems to be buzzing every night.

Saturday

Day One: Flight delayed by an hour to Bordeaux and stayed overnight in an airport hotel before taking an early morning TGV to Tours. It’s a promising start. Desktop big and solid, power points and internet all work for the duration of the two-hour trek.

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Arrive just in time for the Irish squad’s open session and twice rearranged opening press conference at the Stade de la Vallée du Cher. A fungus on the pitch means the training session is replaced with some fun interaction with the 12,000 crowd in attendance.

We’re eventually allowed enter a makeshift press room to join the rest of the initial Irish media squadron as Andy Farrell is already in full flow. Double acts don’t work as a rule, but the Finlay Bealham-James Lowe pairing provides an exception.

Taxi into central Tours. My “charming studio” is indeed charming, although the pictures were cleverly assembled, making it look bigger than it is. The bed is a fold-out couch. The glamour!

Still, the view from the window is of the Basilica of Saint Martin, Tours, which according to Wikipedia was begun in 1886 and completed in 1925 and Place Pomereau is two minutes’ walk away. Some colleagues are 15 minutes’ walk away, but have a gym and indoor swimming pool. But who needs a gym?

Amid more heavy security and what seems a fleet of tinted black SUVs, the squad complete all their Tours formalities when receiving their World Cup caps and medals at the welcoming ceremony in “Grand Théâtre - Opéra De Tours”.

The latter perform Ireland’s Call, the popularity of which in France along with the song The Lakes Of Connemara never ceases to amaze.

Sunday

The players enjoy a day off and pockets are seen mingling among the streets and the locals. One cluster of about half dozen ask a local “where is the market?”

But not: “Où est le marché, s’il vous plaît?”

Nope. Not a word in French. They shall remain nameless. No press conferences in makeshift rooms today, but work held over from yesterday.

The Arsenal-Man United game, kick-off 6.30 Irish time, is an unofficial incentive deadline to get the work done. Get the timings wrong. Still working when an Arsenal mate texts blaming Havertz for United’s goal. Two minutes later he texts “Get in”. Hit send and watch rest of first half on laptop.

Join a colleague – let’s call him Mustard, given he’s as keen as – who supports the other lot for some early World Cup bragging rights. He’s found an Irish bar, called McCools.

Like all Arsenal games this season they’ve become a tough watch. The passing is ponderous. When United seemingly score again, Mustard is happy but it’s a fraction offside and Arsenal score twice in overtime.

All’s well that ends well, although winning is the only enjoyable part of being a fan really, and as Barney Ronay wrote in The Guardian when he observed that Declan Rice was “fighting to cover a position‑and‑a‑half in midfield, where Kai Havertz was again a spectral entity, only partially present in the material world”.

Indeed.

Monday

A couple of us hire bikes, for it seems like a good way of getting round Tours, and just €12 per day. It seemed like a good idea until that steep incline to the squad’s HPC-like base in the Stade de la Chambrarie.

Set among the woodlands on the upper suburbs of Tours, this was our first rare sighting of the complex, which was only built in the last year but meets all the squad’s needs.

Today’s makeshift media conference room is the airless portacabin which doubles as the Irish squad’s team meeting room in the Stade de la Chambrarie and holds a table of laptops which presumably belong to the coaches.

John Fogarty says “Welcome to the sweat box”, and on cue Andy Farrell comes in and chides his scrum coach about him sweating again. Poor Fogs. Seems to cop it all the time.

Tuesday

Today’s latest makeshift press conference room is to the side of the magnificent looking Town Hall but, blissfully, it has air conditioning. Paul O’Connell is asked about John Fogarty’s comment the previous day revealing that O’Connell has described the Wednesday live scrummaging sessions as “box office”.

One of the curiosities of this media group is the presence of Leeds fans and, more curiously still, a Sheffield Wednesday fan – assuming the baton from Kieran Rooney (which was always even more curious).

The Sheffield Wednesday man overhears the Leeds man and, following on from previous exchanges since the 0-0 draw at Elland Road last Saturday, goes off on one again.

“Still giving out about our team of free transfers parking the bus . . . expect us to roll over and have our tummies tickled . . . against your bunch of multi-million pound signings?”

Leeds man: “I was actually talking about the day ‘Wednesday’!”

The Leeds man also organised some craft beer tasting on the outskirts of Tours in La P’tite Maiz. As well as tastings of craft beer, we’re given a guided tour of the indoor plants which put together makes the beer, with giant silver cases at a cost of around €300,000 each.

Wednesday

There’s another venue for today’s makeshift press conference, which is actually in the Salles des Marriages in the magnificent Town Hall, built in 1906. But the wonderful, high ceiling architecture is blocked out by a board with sponsors names and logos.

Oh dear, what World Rugby insist upon for backdrops. It’s certainly not in the name of art.

A good crew is assembling, and more still when we move on to Bordeaux. Now it’s off to a Bistro recommended by Christophe called le Chien Jaune. Okay, it’s not all bad so far.