Ben Kayser is celebrating the anniversary of his first year out of a game that has driven him for all of his adult life.
A cosmopolitan man, born in Paris but with a chunk of his childhood spent between the US and Asia, he has played professional rugby for Stade Francais, Leicester Tigers, Castres and Clermont. The journey has given him lots of things, not least a love of European competition and what it brings.
Like other bits in rugby's jigsaw, no one is sure where that will fit next season. Kayser, a committed Europhile, shakes his head and hopes for the best.
"The boys would get fed up with me in European weeks because I would just light up," he remembers of his eight seasons with Clermont. "I would be a different bloke. I would want absolute perfection from everyone. I would want everyone to buy into the passion of this thing.
"But now somebody is going to have to give in, whether it's Top 14 or European Cup or Six Nations. I thoroughly hope they find a way to keep the European competition because I just think it's extraordinary. And it's a proper stepping stone to international rugby, the way players improve. But yes, I'm scared about what's going to happen."
He'd be mad not to be on edge, but it may not be the precipice he fears. We expect European rugby to be squeezed next season, most likely from six pool games to four, but there is enough common ground between those around the table to accept that this particular show must go on.
You might wonder why Kayser is so committed to a love mostly unrequited. He is a businessman now. In his last few years at Stade Marcel Michelin he began to prepare for the afterlife.
If Dimitri Szarzewski and Guilhem Guirado laid waste to his chances of a career as the starting hooker in the France side - 28 of his 37 caps came off the bench - then it was time to reassess. So after the 2015 World Cup Kayser realised the international days were done.
Then a couple of medium term injuries made him think about the bigger picture. His neck had literally become a pressing issue. So he looked down the road and explored the prospect of buying into the Eden Park clothing franchise.
By sign-off time last season he was involved in shops in Clermont, Toulouse and Bordeaux. With the World Cup around the corner TV was also waiting for him to sign up as a pundit, a job to which he is perfectly suited. What could possibly go wrong?
Then came Covid. Shops in France have been reopening slowly since last month, but only in the last fortnight have things gathered pace. Problem is, you can't just waltz in to a boutique, pick something you like, run your hand over it, and try it on.
"When it's a luxury brand and you can't touch the clothes it makes the sale a bit more complicated," he explains.
The whole operation sounds like torture: anything tried on has to be steam cleaned at 60 degrees and hung out the back. Because it's not a high street heavyweight like Zara the stock is low.
So if someone else asks for the same item when it's out the back then that might be that. Customers, depending on their age and outlook, might have a very cautious approach to darkening the door in the first place.
Oddly he finds older folks gung-ho while the 30-somethings are distinctly circumspect. Neither is the staff situation straightforward. France looks after its workforce pretty well at times like this. Returning to work might be a close financial call when set against staying at home. Kayser's head is melted.
What's keeping him sane, what's stimulating his brain, is the five days in every 25 he spends on an Oxford Executive MBA course, something he did well to access given rugby put a hole in his studies over the years. He loves it but frequently feels out of his depth.
"The variety of the cohort are from different backgrounds, upbringing, nationalities - some of them ex-veterans - so honestly you should see my face when we talk about analytics and statistics and probability. My brain is obliterated at the back of the room.
"I'm about to pass out and there's blood about to come out of my ears because it's so complicated. But when we talk about leadership and teamwork they all turn to me, and they're eating every word when I try to explain my experience of professional rugby.
"We really, really learn a lot about resilience (in rugby) and we're not afraid of failure. All these guys are absolute geniuses and they have fantastic brains and they will do very well in life, but they are scared shitless of failing.
"We learn week in week out what it is to be not as good as somebody else. And that's not a problem. That's a target. And that's a very, very different mindset from anyone else who's in business.
"They're scared shitless of the bad situation, of the bad conversations, which is exactly where we thrive."
Fine. Let's go back to the Heineken Cup final, Lansdowne Road, 2013 - Clermont against Toulon. On 49 minutes Clermont go 15-6 up: Brock James chips; Aurelien Rougerie barrels Jonny Wilkinson out of the way to gather and offload it back to James who scores by the sticks. Morgan Parra taps over the conversion.
For the next 10 minutes they're all over Toulon like a rash. A penalty, a drop goal, any sort of scabby score will be a rusty nail in the Toulon coffin. It doesn't come.
By 64 minutes the Clermont lads are gathered behind their line. Already Wilkinson has kicked a penalty and now he's lining up the conversion of Delon Armitage's try to give them the lead. The score had come from nothing, finished by one of rugby's least likeable characters, waving bye bye en route to the try line. There is a fair bit of chat among the yellow shirts but they look empty. Lost.
"Emm, to be totally honest the game you're referring to is probably the biggest scar on my whole career," Kayser says. "I've lost a lot of European finals. I don't think anybody's lost more than me.
"But I've always said there was a few of them I actually digested quite easily just because we were outplayed and beaten by the better team, you know? So at least that doesn't leave much soreness. I'm thinking about 2017 against Saracens: honestly, they should have beat us by 40 points. It's a miracle that we hung in there. We watched the game back many times and it wasn't a problem.
"Even 2015 against Toulon we got physically battered - it was a tough, tough old game. But in 2013 we really felt we were the better team. We were going to win this one.
"The tough thing about that moment you're referring to is that obviously there was a lack of experience from me and others. Experience is dealing with shit. Dealing with bad situations - that's what experience is. It's not the number of games, it's the number of losses that you can come back from.
"This team was suffering its second tough, tough moment after losing a semi-final against Leinster that just slipped out of our hands the year before in Bordeaux, with Wesley Fofana dropping the ball in the end-zone for the winning try.
"The main reason we were talking so much in the moments after that Armitage try was because of the situation of the try, and that was our lack of experience.
"Whatever happens, even if it's the biggest robbery in the world, don't spend one second squealing about it then. Speak about it in the pub for years if you want with your mates, and moaning about it, but at that moment don't waste an ounce of energy complaining about it.
"That's what Toulon did better than us that year. When we were 15-6 ahead, did you see them moan or complain? No! They were just better! There are highs and lows in every single game and it's how you deal with them. Stick to the plan and keep your composure. Keep your grit and that will make the key difference."
It was in the Auvergne that Ben Kayser found his niche as a player and a leader. When he arrived there in 2011 he had already won a Top 14 title with Stade Francais, his first club (beating Clermont in the final), and a Premiership with Leicester, but he knew what it was like to lose on the biggest European days.
With Stade he was part of a losing side in 2005 and then Leinster had wiped the Tigers' eye in the Heineken final in 2009, when Kayser had benched behind George Chuter.
Clermont is not the most stylish of French cities. Two things drive the town: the tyres that roll out of the Michelin factory and the rugby team that runs most teams off the road. They are peas in a pod.
The club have long been competitive but their record in finals is woeful. The year before Kayser arrived the cloud had finally lifted when, against a backdrop of 10 losing Top 14 finals, they finally got over the line, against Perpignan.
The celebrations were epic. The club ploughed on with their upgrading of the stadium, and it was worth the effort.
Now at 19,200 capacity, with a hybrid pitch, it may be smaller than Thomond Park and Welford Road, but it's on the same podium for big European days out. Ronan O'Gara considered it the ultimate away-day test for Munster. When the Reds got out of there with a losing bonus point in 2008/09 they greeted it like a win.
Kayser saw the best of times on that home turf. But he had an unfeasible amount of heartache as well, losing another three European finals. He lives slap bang in the middle of the town. You wonder if eye contact with the locals ever became a problem on the short walk from home to the boulangerie?
"I got in an argument a few times because there is always an idiot but the absolute majority of fans and Clermont people are lovely, hard-working, respectful people who know what it is to get there, who know that it is the responsibility of the club to put the name of Clermont on the map of the world, because apart from Michelin nobody would know this place. And that we do it with passion and grit.
"Yes, we did not win as many times as we should have, and 2013 was the absolute example, but it's not about choking; it's not about bad luck; there's never been a clumsiness over: 'Oh we always crumble in the final'. Do you think there's not the same pressure in the semi? It's precisely the same thing.
"Except the end result is not the same. But we also won some stuff, and when we did it was through grit, determination and resilience."
Deliverance came in the nick of time. As Kayser was heading for his personal exit last season Clermont won the Challenge Cup, a result that was greeted with as much relief across much of the rugby world as in the Auvergne.
He struggled to keep it together at the post-match interview. He remembers struggling out of bed the next morning, sitting in his kitchen feeding his infant child as they both gazed at the trophy on the table.
"On a personal level it was huge," he says. "But I love the European competitions. It's exactly what I love about rugby. It's about the Clermont fans and the Munster fans having a hundred beers before and after the game the same way whether it's win or lose. It's about different nationalities gathering around this wonderful sport that we've got, where we can beat the shit out of each other on the field but there will still be respect and almost brotherly love before and after.
"The clash of cultures has always been my thing. I've lived abroad a lot from a very young age and because I was the English speaker even with the under 19s for France I was always the one sent out to translate for after-match speeches.
"Same for under 21s. When I got into the France senior team I was always the one translating for the ref. Because I had won the Top 14 with Stade Francais in 2007, winning in Europe became my absolute goal. Listen, with Clermont we beat Leinster in Leinster; we beat Munster in Munster, the first French team in history to do that; we beat Saracens away - 40 points after a two-day delay because of the snow; we beat Exeter away - 40 points put on them, one of the most dominant teams in Europe at the moment.
"We've done some incredible results and yes, we haven't won enough titles. And I agree 150 per cent but, bloody hell, we gave our heart and soul to this thing, and we represented proudly the jersey and the club with the backing of incredible fans."
He doesn't sound like he'll be moving house any time soon.
Sunday Indo Sport