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Home > Blogs > French Top 14 - A new life in France
Your NewsFrench Top 14 - A new life in France
Follow the life of Everything Rugby team member Tom May as he begins life in the South of France with Toulon.
Friday 27th August 2010
More than a year already

 My wife and I have now been in France for more than a year now and the time has flown by. Looking back I think it took me a lot longer than I thought to settle in properly, allowing me to fully focus on rugby and stop worrying about what was going on off the field.
I started around 18 games last year and played in another 6 more from the bench. This was a nice return for me I think in a season where I don't think I was near my best. This season, I am feeling totally different. I was looking forward to getting stuck into pre season and have spent the last few weeks since we started on July 1st working really hard on my game. There has been a large amount of time and sweat that has gone into training so far and I have also spent more time developing my confidence. You may think that this is something that would come naturally to sports people - I am sure it does for some but for me it is something I have to work at and I am now feeling the benefits of this.
Last season we exceeded our goals by finishing 2nd in the league, eventually being knocked out in extra time by Clermont who went on to win the Top 14. Our goal was simply to finish in the Top 6. In our European Challenge Cup adventure we set a goal of having a 1/4 final to play in at home. We failed that and had one away in Connacht which we won and then we got to the Final which was played in Marseille. We lost a game we should have won to a string Cardiff outfit.
This season we are looking forward to the new challenge of the Top 14 - we lost our first game at home (we hadn't lost at home for 15 months!) to Bayonne and then went away in Round 2 to European Champions Biarritz and won where we hadn't for the last 29 years! Random start but hoping we can continue in that vein and progress through the season. We also have a fantastic group in the Heineken Cup to look forward to with the likes of Munster and Ospreys to face. Not easy by any means, but something that we are all looking forward to.

Posted by: , on August 27th 2010 on 07:51am0 Comments
Monday 22nd March 2010
6 months in.....

 I have now been on the Cote d’Azur for about 6 months and life is still a challenge sometimes but I think Kate and I are both starting to get more from this experience. I think to start with the whole novelty of living in a new country means that you don’t approach life as you would at home in the UK but gradually we are getting used to this as normality.

It was strange to be away from Newcastle for the build up to Christmas, for a start the sun was shining and only two weeks before I was sitting in the garden reading my book in just a t-shirt! There were great little Christmas villages with mini chalets selling loads of local gifts, warm gluvine and some great food. We had a week off over Christmas, which we spent with family in Ponteland. It was good to see them and friends at Newcastle Falcons but unfortunately thanks to British Airways, it was slightly stressful as they lost my bag until Christmas Eve!

On the field we are still on target to reach our goals for the season. As a team that has been brought together this year, I thought it was going to be much harder for us to bond as a group but surprisingly, we are a very tight unit and things are on track. We are heading towards the ¼ finals of the European competition (depending on the result this Saturday!) and we should finish in the Top 6 in the French league allowing us access to the Heineken Cup next season.

Last week we went to play Saracens in London. Each season we are allowed to take 2 jokers which means you can stay over in the place you have just played and not travel back with the team. I asked for mine when we headed to London so I could stay over and see family and friends and what a stroke of luck, we drew Saracens on a Thursday night allowing me the whole weekend to play!! I took some stick for that but nothing that would have stopped me having a night out in London…… My night out in London was probably nothing compared to the nights out that my ex-Newcastle teammate Ollie Phillips seems to be having in Paris. The reports that come in from Paris every week regularly feature star names like 50 Cent and Kanye West. He seems to be loving life up in the capital and knowing Ollie, he knows everyone already!

We are moving house again which is going to be a slight pain but the house we live in is being sold and we were under pressure for a week or so to find a house very quickly as it is very hard to find property down here. We found a newly built house and the view is fantastic, out to sea and maybe 15 miles in each direction. I can’t wait until summer comes in March (earlier than Newcastle!) so we can enjoy it properly.

We only have one game in February, away against Toulouse and we have a week’s holiday that I am looking forward to. Have a good month and I will look forward to updating you at the end of February.


Posted by: , on March 22nd 2010 on 03:14pm0 Comments
Monday 23rd November 2009
The Next Month or two.....

 The next month or so here in France for Toulon is big. We have just arrived back from a week or so break where lads were told to go away and forget rugby. I think we can safely say that most guys took the chance with some pleasure. There is nothing better than a mid season break - something that may only come in February in the UK when the Six Nations are on if players have not been picked for representative squads. However, coming back from this we had to face a very determined Brive side this weekend just past and we looked very rusty and could have and probably should have finished the game winning by a more convincing win than 19 - 10 but if you win when you haven't played particularly well then you can't really complain!!

This week coming we have Stade Francais away in Paris and then the following week we have Racing Metro, again away and again, in Paris. We need to get something from these games. We are now 5th in the league and have only just started to really know how each other play and develop as a team. I think we have a great opportunity this weekend at Stade as they are missing several key players who are either injured or on international duty and we have a near enough full squad to choose from, except for our Argentine contingent of Juan Fernandez Lobbe and Esteban Lozada. After these two games we have to games home and away against Rovigo in the European Challenge Cup, which I am sure we can win to help us continue our form in our group. 
This takes us up to Christmas where we have another week where we can go home. This is great! In the English Premiership you normally find yourself training on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day at some point which means that Christmas arrives and finishes in the blink of an eye. I am returning to Newcastle for the first time since I left in the summer and I am staying with my brother in law, Hall Charlton, for the Christmas period. I am flying back the Nice in the 27th December for training in the afternoon and then we have a game at home against Albi on the 3rd January. We have two games in a week with an away game against Clermont which will be very tough.
This next month or so can really set us up for the end of the season and it is great to be playing in a squad that is capable of really doing something within months of being assembled. We NEED points from both of the next two away games if possible and this is something we are very positive about doing. This should take us another spot up the league and then we can look to Rovigo and Albi as another set of games which we have to come away with wins from.
The public down in Toulon expect and the pressure comes from them through the coaches to the players, but it is not pressure we wouldn't put on ourselves anyway. As a group we set out our goals at the start of the season in Serre Chevalier on camp and we are heading towards those goals now and it would be great to achieve them so soon as a team.
Christmas is a great period for parties and seeing friends and families but as professional players it is also a time when we can take the team forward and really set ourselves up in a position for a great end to the season.


Posted by: , on November 23rd 2009 on 04:14pm0 Comments
Monday 16th November 2009
4 months in and life is good

 It is now the 16th November and we have just got back together (last night) after having had a week off from training. We played 14 games on the bounce in the space of 12 weeks and the start to the season here has gone fairly well. We are where we want to be in the table (Top 6) and we know we could be slightly higher but for a couple of dodgy refereeing decisions!
Life over in France has been good but at times far from easy. I think the guys at the club find life so much easier than the wives and at times I do feel slightly sorry for them as it is very difficult for them to get into life out here; it's certainly not an easy thing to do anyway. Many of them don't speak French to a fantastic standard, if at all, and this can prove very difficult when practicing within a less forgiving public. Us lads can make some horrific howlers when we are talking but we can get them out of the way among our friends and colleagues at the club.
The rugby has been going well. We are starting to gel as a team and we are playing more expansive rugby now that we know each other much better as players. The start of the season was hard and we played a much more conservative game - probably a wise idea given the early season temperatures!! 
We have a very strong squad and sometimes you can look around in training and wonder how all of these players get game time! We seemed to have managed it and the lads that have played well when they have been given the chance have always been in with a shout. Coming from an environment where I was in a position where I knew that I could hope strongly that I would be playing every week it has been difficult at times to sit out and watch or come on from the bench but I knew this would be the case coming here. Hopefully, this may prolong my career and mean I can carry on into my mid 30's as I look after myself well and love the conditioning side of the game. I have started 9 games up until now and come on from the bench in another 3 so I have only missed out on 2 games this season which I can be fairly happy with. You just have to keep your head down, work hard every day, try to get better and enjoy what life brings over here.
Off the field my life is very different from back in the UK. My wife and I are playing tennis at the local tennis club 2 or 3 times a week and playing in some matches which is an interesting if not frustrating experience! We go bike riding in the nearby hills with the dogs and generally spend much more of our life outside. I love this and the things that we did back in Newcastle like going out at the weekends regularly do not seem to such a priority over here. We have been out a couple of times but nothing like the number of times we would expect to have been out in the UK. I like waking up at the weekends and feeling fresh to be honest! You can do much more with you weekends.
I have been fairly sloppy in updating this blog and am going to update it far more often from now on as the things that have been tying me up and stopping me from having the time have now been done.
Send in some questions if you like and I will try and answer them for you as much as I can.
Cheers for now.

Posted by: , on November 16th 2009 on 04:34pm0 Comments
Monday 10th August 2009
Pre season summary

 This pre season has flown by! We are now in the build up to the first game of the season which is this Friday against Stade Francais, here at Stade Mayol. Normally, when you do a pre season like the ones in the Premiership we would still have about a month left before we played a game in anger - not here in France. Within a few days of starting our pre season rugby practice we had a game against Brive, followed the next week by a game against Racing Metro and then last week with a match against the touring Brumbies side.
We set out goals for the season when we were away in Serre Chevalier and one of those was to make Stade Mayol back into the fortress it used to be and by winning all three of our pre season warm up games we have made a start in creating a fortress. Not that these friendlies mean too much but you have to start somewhere I suppose. This weekend is going to be a really tough test and by the end of the game we will know more about where we are as a team. We have a fairly tough start in the league with Stade, Racing and champions Clermont all coming down to Toulon within the first 4 weeks but we are looking forward to these games and we are confident we can give a good account of ourselves.
We have had two and a half days off over the weekend and it was a good chance to get some good rest in before the season starts proper. I relaxed in Toulon, taking the dogs for some nice walks in the areas nearby including a fantastic lake in Le Revest. Life here is so different to back in the UK and whenever you have a day off it feels like you are on holiday which really helps the day offs do the job they are supposed to do - re-energise you. Life in the flat with two big dogs isn't easy and I try and spend as much time out of the apartment as possible especially as my wife is now back in the UK about to go on a holiday with one of her friends. I don't blame her - I wouldn't be too happy sitting around this flat looking after two dogs and if I had the chance to go somewhere until we can move into our house in the small port of Carquerainne then I probably would!
I was ill last week and was laid up in bed for around 3 and a half days with suspected colitis - if you haven't had it, try never to get it as it was horrendous. Throwing up, stomach cramps weakness and dehydration in a climate like this are really difficult to deal with. However, I have been really impressed with the medical system over here. I needed to go and see the doctor which I did, she lined me up for a stomach scan to check for any problems with my main organs in my stomach and then I have had two blood test in 4 days which have given the staff more of an idea what is wrong. They are going to do further investigations into the problem and are constantly checking with me how I am feeling. They look after you really well. You may say that is because I am a professional rugby player but you see this sort of treatment being given out to those who aren't professional sportsmen too; the medical advice and service provision is far better than back in the UK.
I can't wait for the season to begin and I really hope I am involved in the squad for the weekend's game. We have two days hard training Monday and Tuesday and then a day off on Wedesday. Thursday we aren't in until 7pm in the evening when we have a team meal and then we have the game on Friday. It is a fairly short week and the turn around to the Racing game next Saturday afternoon is a but longer so we can have a bit more training in us.

Posted by: , on August 10th 2009 on 10:27am0 Comments
Monday 27th July 2009
Life after 1 month......

 We are now settling in well and I am getting used to the new routines that take place out here in France both on and off the field. The day starts much earlier out here because of the hot weather and you really do need to have a quick 'power nap' in the afternoon to help you get over the tiredness before you train in the evening.
We played against Brive on Friday in our first pre season game and we came away from the match with a win! Only a 9 - 3 score line, not exactly a thriller but that was to be expected with both teams only having completed a few rugby sessions prior to the fixture. It was good to see Jamie Noon who came down with his new team but it was weird to be playing against him after 10 years pulling on the Newcastle shirt together!
French rugby is much more about physical intimidation and a team's ability to overcome the inconsistency of the refereeing! There were several decisions on Friday that were 'strange' to say the least. Phillippe Saint Andre has mentioned to us already that this is what to expect week in week out and just to get used to it but until you actually see the standard of refereeing for yourself you don't think it will be that bad - but believe me, I think it will be!
I played 40 minutes at the weekend and was fairly happy with the way things went on the wing having not played there for around 8 months. I didn't get the ball really in attack but tried to focus on my defence and communication which seemed to go well - I am sure I will be told at some point this week!
I am looking forward to training this week and getting more rugby under the belt as there is nothing worse than playing your first couple of games in pre season as they only seem to frustrate you. We have maybe four rugby sessions this week, some more gym work and some time to focus on individual skills which is great when you can do some kicking and it's not cold and raining or some passing when the ball isn't wet!
Roll on the next game which is on Friday against Racing Metro, again at home at the Stade Mayol. It will be good to see guys like Dan Scarborough and Epi Taione who are now both playing on Paris.

Posted by: , on July 27th 2009 on 09:30am0 Comments
Friday 17th July 2009
Training camp in Serre Chevalier

 This week we have travelled as a squad to the Alpine town of Serre Chevalier, better know for it's skiiing and winter sports. It took us about 4.5 hours from Toulon to get here but that was nothing too unusual as I have spent enough time on buses travelling with Newcastle!
On arrival we were told to pack a ruck sack with a few select items and then we set off on a 12 kilometre hike/jog. Through the forest and over the lower parts of the ski fields we went and 1hr 40 minutes in we reached our destination for the night which was a field in the middle of a valley next to a farm.
We had a great time in the evening having had a BBQ and a couple of drinks together. I spent my time with Conrad Barnard (ex Cheetahs), Luke Rooney (ex Penrith Panther in the NRL) and with Ross Skeate (ex Stormers) and spent time talking and getting to know each other more. Things like this are fantastic for getting to know your other team-mates. We were told that even though it was nearly 30 degrees during the day that it would be down to around 4 degrees by 4 in the morning. I decided that I would get least wet by lying on a bench and putting my sleeping bag on there.
Having had a poor nights sleep, we woke up, had some breakfast in the farmhouse and then set off on what was to be a 2.45 hour fast walk from about 1320 metres to 2750 metres. It was a test of mental strength and many of the lads were finding the going very tough but we all got through and reaching the top was fantastic and we all had a real sense of achievement. This is part of the route of the Tour de France and it gave us all a sense of how difficult the terrain is that they cover during the race.
We spent the afternoon down in Serre Chevalier in an Adventure Park and used it to build some teamwork and spirit and then went back to our hotel for a deserved hot shower and a rest before heading off to the local hot baths where we spent some time soaking our sore bodies!
From tomorrow onwards we are focussing on the rugby and we have two sessions a day which will be tough but will be good for us in the build up to our first game against Brive next Friday.

Posted by: , on July 17th 2009 on 02:18pm0 Comments
Friday 10th July 2009
Arrival in France

 After the nightmare of packing up our house in Newcastle, the actual trip down here to Toulon was fairly painless! Landing in Nice we were picked up by a guy called Gerard who speaks only French so it gave me a good hour or so to practice!!
We are living in a flat in an area just on the outskirts of Toulon for the first couple of months and then we move into a house in a small town called Carqueiranne which Kate (my wife) and I are both looking forward to.
I was given the option of starting pre season on the 13th July but since coming back from tour I have just wanted to get over here and start the new challenge that lies ahead. With that in mind, I started last Thursday at pre season and have been to every session since. The lads are really great to be with and the team spirit is fantastic here and it has been exciting to join the team and start training with them.
I am trying to speak as much French as I can and I enjoy having a good go at it even though sometimes I am sure that the people I am speaking to have no idea what I am on about. There are a good number of English speaking players which is nice as we are all learning together but I am trying my best to make the effort with the French guys as I would be trying to help them out if they were trying to speak English at an English club.
Everyday that we have been here has been over 30 degrees and sunny and we are training in the mornings and then have the afternoon off and then perhaps sometimes we have a rugby session in the evening. It is quite a strange routine to get into as there has never been any problems with the heat in the North East since I have been there!!
We have a hill session tomorrow morning (Saturday 11/7) and then we are off for the weekend and next Thursday we travel up to the ski resort Serre Chevalier where we are on camp which should be great fun. There is less of a focus on the physical aspect of our training and more concentration on our rugby game plan and skills. Having said that, over the past week or so and a bit longer for some, there has been some really hard work put in so we could probably do with a bit of down time from the weights and fitness, although I am sure they will find a decent hill if they need to up there.
The first week has been tough training but also there have been some tough times off the field as we try to settle in but that is to be expected and I would be very surprised if all the new players were not feeling the same way at times. We are both enjoying the experience and I look forward to keeping you posted on life in France.
A Bientot,

Posted by: , on July 10th 2009 on 10:34am0 Comments
Sunday 01st January 2006
Frustrating France

France can be one of the most frustrating places to live sometimes; there is a VERY relaxed perspective on life and getting things done on time is a challenge. People don’t turn up on time or even at all to complete jobs that are in need of doing and then when they arrive, they can’t fix it and we may not understand what needs to be done leaving a complete mess!

Frustrating could be the best way to describe the French in general I think - but coming from an Englishman who they probably think is a typical “ros beef” I probably can’t comment too much! For example, French rugby teams can be fantastic and play some of the best rugby in Europe one day and then the next you won’t have seen such a low standard. Enough to drive coaches insane but most of them are French and soon forget over a nice glass of red anyway. Off the field, the “laissez faire” attitude is something I am becoming used to but, yep, you guessed it, SO frustrating. You just want to grab some of the people and give them a good shake but I am coming to understand this is part of the whole experience of being out here and writing these articles helps me reflect on life here in the proper way. This could be something, and most likely IS something, which we, as British, could learn from; if we relax a bit more and spend more time doing things we want to do, life will be more enjoyable. However, I don’t think life in the UK gives you the chance to do this. Not enough of us take time over things in the UK and as much as it sometimes drives you up the wall here, it is something I am going to remember from this experience.

My French has been under pressure this month. I feel as if I have reached a plateau with it and it is really hard to feel like you are improving. I have been going to my lessons like a good boy and I have even been taking some extra ones with Kate’s teacher – but I don’t feel I am getting any better. I felt even worse about it when Kate broke her mobile phone and I had to go into a store and try and order another one. In England there are a huge amount of tariffs to choose from, but imagine that in French with someone who was not taking any pity on me and speaking at a million miles an hour! After around an hour I came out with the worst had ache in the world. Hopefully, by the next time I write in here I will have gone on to a better level!

On the pitch we have been having some real success and it is really exciting for us as a team. I have played against Toulouse (Away) and Biarritz and we have won both games; Toulouse 6 – 3 and Biarritz 21 – 20. We are now in a very strong position in the league with 5 games left and 3 of these at home, where we now have not been beaten for more than a calendar year. The last game of the season is against Brive who my friend and ex Falcon player Jamie Noon plays, so I shall hope to play in that game!

Anyway, time to take the dogs for a walk on the beach (in my shorts already!) and maybe do some French homework so I can finally progress and stop making errors which sometimes come across rude to the people here. You can only imagine some of the things I have said!

A bientot



Posted by: , on January 01st 2006 on 12:00am0 Comments
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