At the car rental shack in Cardiff Airport Fourdogs is issued with some kind of Citroen while Moremiles contrives to land a BMW 5-Series for the same price. There is brief speculation that the RRW have bought him off but somehow we know that those days are gone. Even the Toulouse shirt I wore on the flight over seems like overkill now. We had booked this trip while The Battle for the Soul of European Rugby was still in the balance but now it has petered out into a vague and confusing compromise that everyone suspects may in fact be a crippling defeat. So there will be no running battles with the Franglais across the valleys but there will surely be some Welsh hospitality and the outside chance of a victory at the Liberty Stadium. A victory that, as most of you know, we would go on to achieve in spectacular fashion, but lets not spoil the ending.
The other arm of the now redundant pincer movement had filed in from Bristol in the early morning and taken the castle. Swift4Prez had tried to convince Misfit that the grappling irons were pointless at this stage but he'd already paid O'Leary online for hold luggage. We hit the Walkabout as it is the classiest place that will have us and Fourdogs demands Prosecco served in the finest plastic champagne flutes they have. Once we realise we can't tell the beer from the cider, we figure it prudent to decamp somewhere with better quality booze. Some of our number are laying the ground for the impending trip to the Heineken Cup final and are keen to make themselves known to the door staff at Revolution to ease their future queueing problems, so we swing by there and Misfit buys me a fine Polish vodka, which due to an on-field miscommunication is tragically drowned in Coke.
Early Saturday, the General calls, delegating instructions on troop movements, but it's all too much for Swift4Prez and me, who can't even manage to get on the same bus from our hotel into town. A brief hunt for the Radisson reveals it to be more or less where we left it and Moremiles has already been summoned in with the 5-Series for the trip West. We find the Hicks there, fresh as daisies after sparing themselves from the warm up routine the night before, they join Misfit in the Citroen, while me and Swifty take the Beamer with the Mayo girls. Moremiles drops us at our compact but well appointed lodgings and after a much needed steak on Wind Street, we hit the Liberty, or the pub beside it to be precise, and begin to prepare ourselves for victory.
The North Wales chapter have travelled down to reinforce our number and we find Moss973 inside so between us all we have enough to fill nearly nought point one percent of the stadium. The Ospreys fans make a fair fist of not filling the rest of it in order to give us a sporting chance of outsinging them. Alas we do, no such thing, as Fourdogs is already hoarse beyond repair. The situation on the pitch is about the same, though we come reasonably close to sneaking a try bonus by letting them score so many they get confused and lose count. Realistically though, winning on the pitch was never our best chance so after saying some goodbyes to departing heroes we swing around the stadium to the Riverside Bar, where the Ospreys Supporters' Club are gearing up for their raffle.
This is it. The main event. We'd been preparing for it since the fixtures were announced. The Toulousains are culturally opposed to raffles and the Sarries crowd would just have rigged it. In Parma the prizes would have been opera tickets and in the RDS the entry cost would be prohibitive, but we always knew that in the Liberty we would have a chance. Everyone had their role: Moremiles stakes out a good position close enough to the stage to get a feel for the pace of the draw but far enough away to look nonchalant; the Hicks work on the ticket sellers, channelling them into the attack zone and ensuring a good mix of ticket colours. The bucket shakers don't spot a thing; they even give us supporters pins. One pound per strip, one strip each, let's not be greedy. I land orange tickets 191-195, precisely as planned. Pink would have been too obvious.
The first few go to the locals as expected, but then ticket after ticket is pulled and still nothing for the Clan. Sharp glances are sent my way as suspicion grows that we have miscalculated. I'll be torn apart on the forum. And then bang: orange tickets, 191-195. I try to keep the celebration dignified, I saw what happened to Ashton and Zebo. I make my way to the front to claim my bounty: four cans of Worthingtons Creamflow, 3.6%, imported all the way from England. There is last minute drama as a guy with peach tickets demands a TMO referral, but the decision stands. I make my speech, denouncing the detractors that said there would be no silverware this season. Meanwhile someone calls the Connacht Branch to tell them to clear a bit of space in the cabinet next to the 2012 under-20 interpro trophy. Unfortunately the airlines all inform us that we won't get them through security, so reluctantly we are compelled to drink our trophies.
As the crowd thins out, we happen upon the only breeding pair of Ospreys remaining in the wild and they join us in the cab back into town, where, as is traditional on such encounters between representatives of our two nations, bestiality is high on the conversational agenda. Having narrowly avoided a mauling in the cougar pit of the Queen's Hotel, we make for the No Sign Bar, where much of the Clan have congregated and are consuming a rather tasty class of beer. Closing time brings a few splitters but the Ospreys drag us to another Walkabout where a certain Lions tight head is busting some moves on the dancefloor. And I'm talking past Lions, not future - it is a well known fact that Rodney can't dance. Even after going to the chipper and rescuing a wounded man, Misfit still finds a nightclub to check into until sometime around dawn.
The morning brings another phone call. This time it's Penney, as expected:
"Rob, how's the craic? I'm assuming this is about the cans?".
"You're goodamn right," he fumes. "When I heard it first I thought it must be some kind of sick joke. Four English cans! My off-licence won't even let me sign Harp."
Apparently he has a batch of home brew in his shed that didn't quite work out an he was hoping it could be shipped up to Connacht while he imported some fine wines, all for the greater good of Irish alcoholism.
I hang the phone up. I'm too hungover and I'll have enough to be dealing with when Rog finds out I sold the documentary rights to TG4.
Clan on Tour
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