In his weekly update, Gloucester and France defence coach Dave Ellis talks of his travels to France last weekend.
With no game last weekend I decided to fly down to Bordeaux for a couple of days to oversee a number of business interests I have in the Aquitaine region. I used to coach at Begles Bordeaux and the League team Villeneuve, and am fortunate to have many good friends in this part of the country, so I managed to combine business and socialising in this rugby mad area.
On Thursday lunchtime (last week) I met up with a number of my League Championship winning team of 1996. Great players such as Fabien Devecchi, David Despin, Daniel Verdes, Francky Goffin and Jean-Luc Vareilles and we enjoyed reminiscing about those glorious years for the club.
Villeneuve is the oldest League team formed in France and its headquarters are in the heart of the town, in many respects it reminds me of Gloucester with its strong bond with the rugby club and its fanatical fan base.
I also bumped into Jean Pierre Clar. In his early 60s Jean Pierre is a legend in these areas, around 5ft 10in and 14 stone maximum he is one of only a small number of players to gain French Championship winner medals in both codes of rugby. Having gained honours for Agen Rugby Club where he played prop, he switched codes and positions for Villeneuve, operating at loose forward. Immensely strong he played well above his weight, nicknamed the tree trunk for his awesome scrummaging technique.
This particular region has an excellent reputation for developing front rowers in the dark arts of the scrum. Former France international Jean-Jacques Crenca from nearby Agen is a very good friend of mine, the loosehead prop, christened the 'hard man' of French rugby is one of the most feared scrumagers in world rugby.
I had discussed bringing him over to Gloucester where I believe he would have added some steel to our pack, but the signing of Patrice Collazo, a fine front row forward himself, has filled the club's quota. Vickery and Crenca in the same front row would have made an awesome combination.
My fleeting visit wasn't nearly long enough and before I knew it I was boarding the plane back to England. I picked up a copy of 'Midi Olympique' (a 48pp weekly rugby newspaper) to entertain me on the two-hour flight. The match report on league leaders Bourgoin's defeat at the hands of Agen centred on Crenca dismantling the opposition's scrummage (including Pucciarello and Milloud) almost single handedly.
On the front cover the heading 'EUROSTARS' previewed four players due to take centre stage in the weekend's European Cup semi finals - Dominici (Stade Francais), Harinordoquy (Biarritz), Jauzion (Toulouse) and Johnson (Leicester).
How ironic that two of the four would have such an impact on the outcome of the eventual finalists? Christophe Dominici's extra time winning try was pure theatre and although the game was far from a classic Fabien Galthie's Midas touch continues.
Back in 2002 I was working with Yves Ajac and the French 'A' team. In the centre the young Colomiers player caught the eye, 6ft 3in and 16 stone frame he looked to have tremendous potential, but seemed to lack confidence in his own ability. Yannick Jauzion's switch from Colomiers to Toulouse has given him that missing confidence and he has firmly established himself in the French national squad. His performance against Leicester was exceptional, destructive in defence and majestic with the ball in hand. Jauzion is without doubt one of the best three-quarters in world rugby, if not the best.
Henry Purdy, a first half replacement for Charlie Sharples, was amongst the try scorers in the 64-19 victory over Aviron Bayonnais on Saturday evening and told GRTV that it was a professional performance, one the team are happy with.
Gloucester's win in Treviso last week means that they need a bonus point win against Bayonne on Saturday evening to secure a home quarter-final (kick off 8pm), but Tim Taylor wants the team to focus on the performance first and foremost.
Billy Burns and Man of the Match Richard Hibbard spoke to GRTV after the 41-0 win in Treviso, on a day when preparations weren't ideal. They felt the team's attitude was key and also praised the travelling support.
Following the conclusion of the Stade Francais vs Harlequins game today, round six is complete and the quarter-finalists in the European Rugby Challenge Cup are now known with Gloucester set to welcome the Cardiff Blues to Kingsholm.
Knowing a bonus point win would secure a home quarter-final, Gloucester completed their European mission in some style on Saturday evening, sweeping aside a spirited but outgunned Aviron Bayonnais scoring 10 tries on their way to a 64-19 victory.