Well, this weekend did not quite go as expected!
The plan was to fly from Bristol to Toulouse on Thursday night, have a few beers there and then take the bus over to Pau on Friday morning for the game that evening. Two nights in the town at the foot of the Pyrenees would follow and then back to Toulouse to fly home on Sunday.
Then a spanner in the works on Wednesday night as EasyJet cancelled our flights out to Toulouse due to the general strike in France. Some of our group were unable to re-arrange, a few of us spoke about driving all the way before deciding to fly to Bordeaux from Gatwick on Friday morning and hire a car to drive to Pau for a one night stay and return home on Saturday night.
It seemed that idea was on course for success, and while a Holiday Inn near Gatwick wasn’t exactly Toulouse on the Thursday night at least we were getting out there and having a few beers.
Then, more spanners! Some truly dreadful weather in Pau meant that what was described to us as ‘The Mayor of Pau’ had cancelled all public activity in the region from Friday evening until Saturday lunchtime, including the Cardiff Blues game.
A nervous half-an-hour followed as we contemplated all that re-shuffling of plans only to miss the game if it was rescheduled any later than the following afternoon, but fortunately a 1pm kick-off on the Saturday was agreed to, and a night in the pub followed including Paul Tito wearing a batman mask. That’s an even longer story.
We finally saw some rugby, with Cardiff Blues mounting a brave second half comeback after a slow first 40 to earn two bonus points in defeat and keep quarter-final qualification hopes alive, before taking Jimmy’s Fun Bus back to Bordeaux for the flight home and a few hours back down the M4 to South Wales.
Now I write this for no reason other than to underline the lengths that supporters will go to get to games following the teams they love. We weren’t the only supporters who made it out to Pau, there were about 20-25 altogether including one group who had driven the whole way!
And by no means are Cardiff Blues supporters the only ones who have had trouble getting to games this season but still made it via planes, trains and automobiles. We know of Bath and Ospreys supporters who had trouble this weekend, as well as Scarlets supporters who took some weird and wonderful routes out to Bayonne last weekend.
There will have been supporters before us who have shown mind blowing commitment to offer support to their teams from the stands, and there will be many others after us. It’s just what we do!
On this blog I’m a big champion of rugby supporters, who I believe show this level of die-hard support in spite of, rather than because of, the respect shown to us by clubs, Unions and competition organisers.
I should say at this point that Cardiff Blues were brilliant this weekend, publicly acknowledging efforts made via Twitter, through a video from Josh Turnbull, and John Mulvihill even followed Laura from our group on Twitter just to keep her informed of the postponement and subsequent re-arrangement.
The players were also very kind in coming all the way over to us on the other side of the pitch to shake our hands and thank us for making the journey, all of which is greatly appreciated.
However, I’m reminded of the fact that European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), the people running the Heineken and Challenge Cups, took over two months from the point of the pool draw being made in June to announce the fixtures at the end of August, keeping supporters waiting as the prices and availability of flights and hotels became more expensive and harder to come by.
Both of our home games in pool five so far, against Leicester Tigers and Pau, have been Saturday night kick-offs. This is no good for many families, with the introduction of S4C’s free-to-air coverage many supporters generally have opted to stay at home rather than head into Cardiff City Centre at that time on a Saturday, and particularly last weekend’s game was impacted by Christmas Parties.
Of course I can’t complain about our round six game yet, as the fixture against Calvisano has not yet been confirmed. It is less than five weeks away now and aside from the general weekend it will be played on we are none the wiser. If we were playing away we would not have been able to organise days off from work, let alone travel and accommodation.
EPCR were very quick to point out some sort of attendance record in the Heineken Cup this weekend, underlining that they see support as a big part of their competitions. Maybe they should start acting like it and paying us the respect we all deserve.
Anyway, I’m off to sleep for a week.