- 4 Sep 07, 08:53 AM
“Mesdames et messieurs, bienvenue a Paris.” It was only when I rolled into the Gare du Nord on the Eurostar on Monday afternoon that it finally hit me.
La Coupe du Monde, c’est arrive! Finally. The eternal build-up almost over, the warm-up nonsense done and dusted, the real thing upon us once again.
It started to dawn as I made my way up the escalator at Waterloo station before boarding the train. All these rugby players – Wales fly-half Stephen Jones, Scotland scrum-half Chris Cusiter, Lawrence Dallaglio of course, oh dear, there’s David Strettle, shame he didn’t make it – in strange-looking poses on adverts for the Eden Park clothing company.
But when we got off the train, nothing much going on. Pas grandes choses, as the locals round here might say. Where are the billboards, where is the bunting? Isn’t there a World Cup about to start in a few days, right here, in the French capital?
Wait a minute. In the arrivals area a taxi driver is holding up a piece of paper with “Mrs Wells” written on it. A personal reception for the wife of England’s assistant coach John perhaps?
This is more like it…a Quick Burger poster featuring the grinning face of France pin-up boy Frederic Michalak. They’re doing a special “Number 10” burger for the duration of the World Cup apparently. But have they done their research properly? Shouldn’t it be David Skrela on there instead?
But if World Cup fever is not exactly sweeping Paris (well not the bits I’ve seen yet anyway), 9,000 people turned up to watch Australia train in Montpellier on Sunday. And the All Blacks were besieged by autograph hunters in Marseilles’s Vieux-Port.
The hosts appear in buoyant mood too.
According to a poll for the national sports paper “L’Equipe”, 95% of those who said they will be following the tournament are confident coach Bernard Laporte will lead France into the final. Then again, only 44% said they will be following it, and 17% of those only “probably” rather than “certainly”. But that’s still nearly one in two who will be, right? Which probably isn’t so bad when you think about it.
Anyway, at least the weather’s pretty good. England arrived on Monday to some late afternoon sunshine and a balmy evening in Versailles.
Their hotel is less than a mile from Louis XIV’s famed Chateau de Versailles, and was apparently the former headquarters of the Gestapo in World War Two.
As well as all the usual state-of-the-art gyms, heated pools, and exclusive nearby golf courses you’d expect to find at the base of any self-respecting international rugby team, never mind the defending world champions, it also boasts of signature “heavenly beds” and a mission statement to “leave you feeling better than when you arrived”.
The luxury beds won’t count for much if it all goes pear-shaped against South Africa, Samoa and Tonga in the next few weeks, but who knows, England might just head off to Marseille for the quarter-finals with a spring in their step.
Before all that though, it’s the USA on Saturday of course, and Brian Ashton will be unveiling his starting line-up around midday UK time on Tuesday.
I’ll be keeping you up to speed with what’s happening in the England camp over the next four weeks, so do let us know your thoughts on the team and what you’re up to if you’re if you’re already in Versailles, or Paris, taking in the World Cup ambience.
Bryn Palmer is the BBC Sport website’s rugby union editor.