- 5 Sep 07, 11:07 AM
It is not every day that England hold media briefings in council offices.
Mind you, not every council office can compare with those in Versailles. Beneath three massive chandeliers, in a vast room decorated with huge paintings, lashings of gilt and ornate furniture, England head coach Brian Ashton produced some exquisite Lancastrian Franglais in response to a florid welcome by local dignitaries, before handing down his team for the first World Cup game against the United States this Saturday.
If the backdrop was bizarre, so was the attendance. It appeared that all council workers above a certain rank had been invited to the press conference- there were certainly more suits and stilettos than the fourth estate get to see in a month of Sundays- and the grub wasn't bad either.
Champagne, canapes and petit fours were proffered by white jacketed waiters. Sandwiches - crust is cut off, of course - were delicately arranged on silver platters on damask tablecloths. All in all, it was very civilised - and very French.
Or so I was told. I was tucked away behind a screen in the main room-makeshift sound proofing, don't you know - and getting the lowdown on the injury that laid our Jonny low. By the time I had finished interviewing Brian Ashton, Phil Vickery, Lawrence Dallaglio, Mike Catt, Josh Lewsey, Jamie Noon, and Matt Tait for BBC Radio 5live, all the champagne had been quaffed, the canapes cleared away and the tables stacked.
All that was left to eat was a leftover RFU baguette. England were taking no chances with the hors d’oeuvres and had provided a packed lunch for the players. As always, we journalists were just happy with the crumbs from the table.
Still, the sun was shining as I made back my way back to our considerably less opulent hotel. And I couldn't help noticing, amongst all the window displays promoting the Rugby World Cup in this most affluent of suburbs, an advert in a chocolatiers window offering a box of handcrafted commemorative chocolates for a mere 20 quid. Perhaps we can have a whip round!
Alastair Hignell is a former England rugby international who commentates on rugby union for Radio 5 Live. He is covering England at the World Cup. 5 Live's full broadcast schedule is here.