Place Plumereau in Tours. Alamy Stock Photo

Postcard from the World Cup: Vive l'Irlande! Vive la France!

Tours has proven to be a perfect base so far for Ireland and the travelling media.

WHEN THE IRFU was trying to decide on Ireland’s training base for the World Cup in France, four or five different cities and towns made a pitch to host them. 

Tours, the Irish officials all agreed, was the ideal spot. A university city of around 140,000 people, it’s less than a two-hour train journey southwest of Paris. There’s no huge rugby history here but les Tourangeaux, the local people, have bought into their part in the Coupe du Monde.

Their excitement about the tournament is indicative of what’s happening around France. Last Saturday, a remarkable crowd of 12,000 people turned up at the local football stadium to meet the Irish players. The weekend before, an audience of 13,500 was present in Bayonne to watch Ireland play Samoa. They had no skin in the game but the atmosphere was superb.

When England announced that 1,000 people had attended their own open training session in France, it might have been easy to sneer, but it’s worth noting that this was in the small northern seaside town of Le Touquet. The population is around 4,000 so in reality, it was a relatively big crowd that watched the English, who aren’t exactly popular in France.

This has been one of the overriding impressions of the first few days on French soil – just how thrilled they are to be hosting this thing. While the controversy around the selection of Bastien Chalureau has dented the build-up and could result in les Bleus losing some support, on the whole, les français are buzzing about it all kicking off on Friday night in Paris.

the-hotel-de-ville-town-hall-place-jean-jaures-tours-indre-et-loire-france L'hôtel de ville de Tours, the town hall. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Football is number one in France, while tennis, basketball, handball, judo-jujitsu, and golf are among the other popular sports, but rugby generates massive interest levels too, especially in the south of the country. And yet, the past weekend has shown that other parts of the nation are truly up for this World Cup.

What Ireland like about Tours is that it’s quiet enough for them to fly under the radar in between their World Cup games. And yet, it’s buzzy enough to have plenty of things for players and staff to do when they have fleeting pockets of downtime.

So far, we have yet to see any influx of fans from abroad in Tours. Local businesses hope Irish fans will visit in the coming weeks, but that hasn’t been the case on any noticeable level yet.

Some teams have two different bases during the pool stages, but Ireland are in Tours all the way through their Pool B campaign. They’re happy to have just one base. The local authorities promised to build them a brand-new training facility and were true to their word. Andy Farrell and co. are delighted with the set-up at Stade de la Chambrerie.

That said, things did get heated at yesterday’s media session, which took place in a meeting room at the training complex. As everyone sweated their way through the press conference, Ireland boss Farrell couldn’t resist a joke at assistant coach John Fogarty’s expense.

“Is he sweating?” asked Farrell from the back of the room, where Ireland’s coaches had their laptops set up for analysis. “He’s sweating!”

view-east-along-river-loire-from-pont-de-fil-suspension-bridge-tours-france The River Loire runs through Tours. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Everyone was. The temperature will hit 34°C again today, giving Ireland another taste of what’s ahead in Bordeaux on Saturday when they play Romania in their opening game.

Thankfully, Tours has plenty of spots to cool off. The lovely cobbled lanes and alleyways of the old town are lined with restaurants, while there are a couple of very inviting bars directly alongside the River Loire, which runs through the city.

Venture further along the river and there are countless spots to take shelter under the trees as the river meanders past. The riverside tracks are busy with cyclists and runners, while the tiny Île Aucard, a little island in between the two banks of the Loire, has basketball hoops and football pitches that the seemingly active locals enjoy using.

We probably never would have visited Tours but for Ireland setting up camp here, so we’re grateful for that. It’s a fantastic place. The big university population means the central Place Plumereau is full of energy every evening, even on a Monday. The medieval, wood-lined buildings give the place a sense of history but the young people of Tours lend it great life.

The cuisine is always one of the big joys of visiting France. Tours has a few intriguing specialties. Andouillette is a sausage made of pork offal. A friend warned that it’s “pungent” and they were right. Meanwhile, Beuchelle à la Tourangelle includes calf sweetbread and kidneys along with mushrooms and a creamy sauce. When in Tours.

looking-up-at-one-of-the-wood-beamed-houses-at-place-plumereau-in-tours-france The wood-beamed medieval buildings in Tours. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The 42 has a lovely Airbnb just off the picturesque Place Plumereau, allowing some of the comforts of home. Staying healthy is always a challenge for the media on these trips, so a few runs in the sweltering sun are called for. With a rented bike and the warm welcome of local people, it’s certainly not the worst place to be for the World Cup. One brewery owner has already invited us to come behind the scenes for a visit.

There hasn’t been much interaction with the media from France or elsewhere just yet but that will pick up at the games over the weekend. One French journalist did join the Irish crew for a few drinks on Saturday evening but thankfully discussions to venture to the big boîte de nuit came to nothing.

Still, Tours is a pleasant place to sit with a drink after a long day of work and watch the world go by. As so often in France, you wonder why you don’t just move over and live here.

There are football fans among us, so news of Evan Ferguson’s hat-trick made waves over the weekend, while there was a tough experience for the travelling Man United lover in our group in the face of the Arsenal supporter’s celebrations on Sunday. Some of the locals seemed to be roaring for PSG when they hammered Lyon later that day. 

But everyone is in agreement that the rugby can’t come soon enough now.

As the mayor of Tours put it on Saturday as he looked towards the World Cup… Vive l’Irlande! Vive la France!

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