Monday 11 December 2017

Red sea making waves

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The weather has acceded to the imperative in the nursery rhyme. The rain did go to Spain and will most likely travel back again to Ireland on the day we leave. That is the first law of travel. It's always sunny on the day you go home.

Yes, the forecast is for showers and, when Munster take on Biarritz in San Sebastian tomorrow, the conditions will be Angela's Ashes -- a mixture of rain and the cursed vomited-up Icelandic dust.

It's hard luck when the weather follows you on holidays. There's nothing nicer than lying out in Biarritz with your pale body reflecting the sun like a wall freshly whitewashed for the station.

Le Grand Plage is a haven for people watching. The locals usually come out for a bit of sunbathing on a Sunday and it's definitely an occasion for those shades where you can see out, but they can't see in.

A short stroll up the hill and you can buy a coffee with a very nice bun in a patisserie or yet another silk headscarf for the mother in the Galerie Francaise.

The Hotel Du Palais is an old Russian Palace converted into a hotel. The bar and dining room are truly magnificent. You have to look important to get in and the prices are nearly as high as Holy Hour in Temple Bar, but it's well worth it.

The Russian Royal family built the palace as a summer retreat from Moscow and right across the road is a little orthodox church, which opens for services on Sunday.

For me, the most enjoyable part of the non-rugby side of a weekend is the interaction between the Munster fans and Les Biarrots.

The strangest sight is that of the locals chopping the circumference off burgers to fit them into cut-up baguettes. Some day an entrepreneur will make millions when he introduces either a round burger bun or a square burger to France.

The splendid Casino overlooks the beach. The last time we were in the Casino, I was summoned by the security staff to the ladies toilet.

Bookmaker Eric Browne, a regular in this column, was trying to explain himself. Eric strayed into the Ladies. When he emerged from the cubicle, there were screams and he was detained. The security couldn't understand a word Eric was saying and it was hard to blame them.

Eric, who is not in the least bit homophobic, inexplicably read the sign Hommes on the door of the Gents as indicating the toilet was for gay people only and so did his business in the room where the door read Femmes.

I explained his story. This huge former rugby player was weak from laughter and had to sit on a stainless steel bin which broke under his weight. Drinks were bought and free chips dispensed.

The locals are astounded at our capacity for drink. It only dawns on you that we are martyrs for the sauce when you visit France. The natives wouldn't drink a gallon in a month, but they still have fun. There is genuine affection for the Munster fans in what is a strict town when it comes to street partying.

The last time Munster played here Biarritz Tourism organised a band on a van to drive around the town centre playing Irish songs. Thousands of Munster fans locked arms on a balmy summer's night and sang as one without a care in the world.

There was no bother. Everyone was in good form. It was as near as it gets to the perfect night.

The strange thing was we lost and up to then Munster hadn't won the European title. Pascal Imberon, a former Biarritz and French great who owns an excellent bar down by the harbour, marvelled and wondered what would have happened if we won.

Pascal might find out tomorrow night if it stays dry.

There was a time when the rain helped Munster. This team like to put the ball through their hands at pace. The wet doesn't suit our backs.

Biarritz have a huge pack and Munster must run them around the field. Gaps will appear as the phases mount. That said, O'Gara is very good in the rain and he will test Iain Balshaw under the high ball. He knows loose kicking costs tries. Their winger Takudzwa Ngwenya is the best attacker we have seen for a long, long time, but such is the desire to get the ball out to him Biarritz might be caught for an intercept. The win away over Perpignan showed us Munster are still good enough and, on that line of form, I'm hopeful.

Some Munster fans have been accused of having little interest in their local club. The success of Munster was the catalyst for the rebirth of rugby in Listowel.

Congrats to Listowel RFC and Coach Canty, who beat the might of Garryowen, to win the U-16 Munster Cup. The club celebrate 110 years of rugby on May 8 in The Listowel Arms with more exciting events to come in early September.

I would be more involved with GAA, but it doesn't matter what game kids play, once they are involved in sport. Great teams inspire. The cup isn't the only prize.

Irish Independent

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