The phone rings and it's the bloody lawyers. They've had some correspondence from some of my regular readers, or at least from their legal representatives, who apparently have been using terms such as Tort of Privacy, Defamation Act and, most chillingly, citing the ancient legal principle of What Goes On Tour Stays On Tour. I argue my point vaguely for a while but there's no budging them. Apparently writing about stuff that actually happened is right out and they persuade me to make the following declaration:
The characters and events depicted in this blog are fictional. Any resemblance to any actual persons, real or imaginary, drunk or sober, may be pure coincidence.
No sooner is that dealt with than the phone rings again. This time it's an evil megalomaniac property magnate and owner of an entirely fictional North London rugby club.
"Nigel," I say (not his real name).
"Pinky," he replies (not mine either).
It seems that he's been chatting to a former Toulouse second row who had a recording of my rendition of Les Lacs du Connemara on his phone and feels that this kind of thing is just what his club needs. They've already hit the salary cap for players but there's no limit on how much they can spend on a world class rent-a-crowd to help them shake off their rather lacklustre reputation. He mentions some names I might help him recruit and invites me over to his stadium to check out their setup. Naturally I have no intention of abandoning the Clan, but taking a leaf from the book of a few Leinster lads I know, I decide there's no harm in taking the free trip over and watching what the media make of it.
CityJet for me this time. No slumming it when I'm on the PRL expense account – free drink and a sandwich and everything. I pick up a copy of The Guardian and read about the Syrian peace talks in Geneva and the future of the ERC. The Guardian have come in for a lot of stick recently over their impartiality but in fairness I really thought they gave the Iranians an even break.
On checking into my lavish hotel, I catch the end of the Northampton-Castres game. Three points apiece with fifteen to go. A draw would complete leg one of the five fold accumulator we need for a Heineken Cup quarter final. It would set up the evening's entertainment and the pre-match breakfast nicely if we could keep the dream alive for another fifteen hours, but alas the home team rally and we are left chasing a rather improbable try bonus.
A few pints follow with various people in an unnamed establishment. I try to escape early on the last tube but my 2011-12 Official Supporter's Scarf is held hostage for a few pints. I eventually make a daring break for it on a night bus.
Saturday morning brings train delays as PRL have brought down power lines on the main route to the stadium. Luckily I have been tipped off as they think I'm one of them now so I get there smoothly. The Dictator meets me and offers me champagne and some sweets he robbed from a kid in the car park. He's about to head up into space to watch the game from PRL's Orbiting Shag Palace and offers me a seat, but I'm not great with heights so I decide to slum it in Block 23.
A massive flag is unfurled and rapidly triples in weight as it miraculously absorbs the beer from everyone's cup. We listen to some cheesy, contrived anthems as artificial as the turf we're looking at, but far more abrasive. This is the kind of crap Mister Chairman wants to hire me to deal with, but I feel the situation is beyond repair. On the field though, the home performance is about to get a whole lot classier.
Proceedings kick off poorly but not irredeemably so, with a soft try sandwiched between two penalties to leave us leading after twenty minutes, but the deficit is seven by the time Nathan loses the run of himself a bit and consigns the campaign to history before the half-time ale run.
After that it's more about the singing and the craic, with a fair share of misery thrown in. The first try after the break features a forward pass, and we complain about the odd crooked feed or less than straight lineout, but of the eleven tries, at least eight must have been good. The clinical nature of our dispatch is utterly dumbfounding. To cap it off, a winger who shall remain nameless swan dives over dramatically at fifty points up. I glance up at the club values inscribed on the main stand: Discipline, check; Honesty, yeah; Workrate, immense; Humility, er, I'll get back to you on that one, Nige.
Our boys scamper off, not really up to the task of coming over to give us a wave, but some of the local team trot over to thank us for popping over and formally present us with our arses. I text the Boss and tell him I won't be able to take him up on his offer. We have a chat with a few of the local fans, or “customers” as their Board of Directors likes to call them and then decamp to a nearby Irish pub for some serious sorrow drowning.
Exeter beat Cardiff away, which means in the parallel universe where Castres had finished the job and we had kept up our end of the deal, we would only have been relying on Harlequins not to get a try bonus in Parc y Scarlets and we were through. At this point no doubt, a plan would have been underway to travel to Llanelli the next day, train schedules would be consulted, flights changed. Instead, more London Pride is ordered and the venue descends into chaos. Plenty of Connacht fans mix in with random Irish people who heard there was something on and random English people who heard there were Irish people getting drunk somewhere. I nip across the road for a Chinese and by the time I get back, Ulster are winning, several people are incoherent and several more have bailed into town. I follow them in on the tube. Now that I'm not in PRL's good books anymore, they try to sabotage my trip and I get briefly lost in the cavernous underbelly of King's Cross St Pancras station, but I make it to the pub where a small but select hardcore are consuming beverages at what my lawyers advise me is a sensible and healthy pace consistent with government advice and international best practice.
Things are so reserved and well-behaved that at no point does anyone feel compelled to request, nor does anyone receive, a bucket from the bar staff. Especially not a big yellow one. Twice. That would never have been required. And nobody asked every woman in London if she was Welsh, because he'd heard something noteworthy about the inhabitants of the selfsame principality. It just wasn't that kind of night. It did however continue until 4am and conclude with a rickshaw ride home powered by a sixty year old man from St Lucia.
With the expense account withdrawn, it's Ryanair home from Luton. Munster sniff out Edinbugh's slim hopes of overtaking Connacht in the tangent universe, so it's all down to Scarlets stopping Quins scoring four tries. I find out afterwards, it was three tries apiece after fifty minutes and then nobody scored until Quins got a penalty in the dying minutes. Of course in the world where they needed a bonus point to pip Connacht to the last quarter final spot, they would never have taken the points, they would have pumped it into the corner. Almost certainly the corner where a rather incongruous rabble, bedraggled from the late night and the early train, resplendent in green among the sea of red, would have been leading the bemused home fans in a chorus of Bread of Heaven as the lineout was claimed and the Sky producer ordered camera positions moved so he could get the maul and the Clan in one glorious shot as the Heineken Cup quarter final lineup inched towards dramatic completion.
But in the real world, they did kick the points, and took a Challenge Cup spot, and I was a long way from south west Wales, dozing off in the back of the car home from Dublin, digesting airport food and the hammering we suffered.
Clan on Tour
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