We just returned from the 2023 Rugby World Cup, where Sabine & I, along with four other couples, set up base in Aix-en-Provence. Tom and Christine, childhood friends of mine from Australia, John and Ana Pacey, dear friends from our days in Brazil, Abel and Christine, also dear friends from Uruguay for over two decades now, and the one and only Robbie Engels – Sabs’s cousin and childhood friend, an Argie sometimes and other nationalities when it suits. We missed his better half, Marina, who could not make the trip. We had rented a really nice home in the countryside of Provence, and all in all, we had a ball and a truly memorable holiday.
As for the Rugby, we saw three totally different games, two in Marseille and one in St Etienne: Argentina vs. England, with a dreadful performance by the Pumas who, coming in, had a great chance to beat the English. It was terribly disappointing. Getting into the game was a disaster – so unbecoming of a World Cup and potentially dangerous for those present. On top of that, they ran out of beer!!! Hard to believe, especially when they are charging 9 Euros a pint!! Johnny, needless to say, was the winner on the day!! Game 2 was Scotland vs. Springboks – a different story, with better access and logistics, and a good game by the Boks showing why they are one of the favorites to win. Then the icing on the cake!!! Fiji vs. Australia… what a day… Firstly, a catch-up lunch with friends from Riverview: Denis, Bob, Pete, and Hayden for lunch prior to the game, which was fun. Fiji has been previously very unlucky not to have beaten Wales, so this match was a win-or-say «Ni sa moce» to the 2023 World Cup. And what a game they played – it is hard to put into words the emotion I felt as, first, the Fijian National anthem was played… I spent my entire childhood singing that anthem… then the Aussie anthem… a moment I will always remember and the highlight of the trip in terms of events. Fiji’s win has been well-documented; however, the chance for a small group of Fijians to be there was certainly special. To beat the Aussies on this stage after not having beaten them for 69 years is amazing. We celebrated with pizzas and beers in St Etienne in what proved to be the closing stage of this RWC trip.
The Food: Whether at home or at the restaurants on our agenda, the food was as good as it gets. The markets at Le Puy, the local boulanger, the seafood, the great steak Johnny cooked, Carl’s duck a l´orange and curry, Chateau La Coste wine tastings and dinner, eggs at home, the cheeses and wine, lunch at Grand Bar des Godes in the search of the perfect bouillabaisse, lunch at The Clover with Michelin star chef Francois Page, topped off by the memorable lunch in Marseille at AM by Alexandre Mazzia, which is written up in this same blog. It is with no doubt that as I write this, I feel a number of kilograms over my fighting weight!! The «Foodie» side of this trip with friends was certainly memorable and one where we can truly understand why the French are considered the true gourmands of the planet… quality produce is key, and they have it. Dinners on our patio in Provence were so nice!! Lots of teamwork with special mention to our Aussie experts in the back of the house support!!
The Golf – we played two rounds in Marseille: Bastide de la Salette & Golf Pont Royal. Congratulations to Abel & Robbie, the respective winners on each day. The RWC Team commits to getting their shirts to them one day – promise!!! The Bastide course design is unique and extremely hilly… while the Pont Royal was in better shape and a very enjoyable course. Special thanks to my friend Jean Van de Velde for setting us up to play on these courses. Played dreadfully – Embos Golf not for export as Roberto says.
The Culture & Other Activities: Marseille itself is not an easy town to walk in… that said, a number of the team enjoyed visiting the principal churches and museums. The magic of Bonnieux, Chateau Costes, Gordes, and the surrounding towns is what made this trip so special, all of which we enjoyed in a wonderful afternoon of bike riding around Provence. Our Abbey specialist Tota was thrilled, as were we all, to visit Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque – one of those truly unique spaces on earth – worth the visit.
So, as I conclude, I thank each and every one of my friends who joined us on the trip… truly memorable moments that will last a lifetime. Sabine and I are privileged to have such fantastic friends. I am sure I missed a few things here and there… but the essence is there, and the most important thing is that we celebrate friendship above all – thank you and merci beaucoup!!
Must make my predictions for the remainder of the World Cup : Quarter Finals : England beats Fiji , Wales loses to Argentina, South Africa beats France . Ireland beats New Zealand Semifinals : Argentina loses to Ireland . Sth African beats England , FINAL Sth Africa beats Ireland