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.
Willi Heinz returned from injury to skipper Gloucester to a famous 16-14 win over Stade Rochelais on Saturday evening. Speaking after the game in France, Heinz admitted the win wasn't pretty but was full of courage and a great result for the club.
Billy Burns contributed all Gloucester's points in the 16-14 European Rugby Challenge Cup win in La Rochelle on Saturday evening, but dedicated the victory to the whole squad whilst also praising the travelling support.
Speaking after Gloucester's brave 16-14 win against Stade Rochelais which clinches a European Rugby Challenge Cup final spot, Director of Rugby David Humphreys paid tribute to the way the team had executed the game plan in a hostile environment against quality opposition.
Greig Laidlaw returns to the Gloucester Rugby squad this week, and his inclusion is an important one after a serious ankle injury. The Scottish scrum half is determined to drive the team forward in their European Rugby Challenge Cup semi final in La Rochelle this Saturday.
Gloucester take on La Rochelle in the European Rugby Challenge Cup semi-final in France on Saturday evening, with the Top 14 side the favourites in the eyes of the bookmakers. However, David Humphreys is looking for his side to rise to the occasion against a familiar opponent.
Speaking to GRTV after Saturday's 39-30 Aviva Premiership win over Sale, Mark Atkinson admitted that the performance wasn't perfect but that the team's character shone through in a game that could easily have slipped away.
Monday evening saw Freddie Clarke in A League action against Exeter, Saturday saw him make his Aviva Premiership debut. And both games resulted in wins! Freddie spoke to GRTV after the 39-30 win over Sale.
Gloucester's young United side once again dug deep to take an illustrious scalp, overturning a half-time deficit to earn a 40-29 victory over Wasps and earn a place in the Aviva Premiership A League final.