Ben Chalmers enjoys living pro dream in Bordeaux
HE MAY be mining a rich seam of votes on an anti-immigration package but Ukip leader Nigel Farage would get short shrift in the international world of French rugby, where more than 40 per cent of all players in the top 14 are foreign imports.
The Scots have benefited as much as anyone else. Only last season, Scotland U20 stand-off Tommy Allan started with Perpignan and ended it with Italy. Now another young Scottish stand-off who was unwanted at home has popped up at Bordeaux-Begles, the club Edinburgh must play in Friday night’s Challenge Cup opener.
The second son of Scotland great Craig, Ben Chalmers not only plays in his dad’s old position but he looks a little like the Grand Slam No 10 too. Ben also exudes much of his dad’s old confidence, too, which is nice to see. After turning out for Scotland in the junior World Championships held in New Zealand last summer, how come he washed up in the wine capital of the world?
“Well, I wasn’t offered anything [a deal] by either Edinburgh or Glasgow,” says Chalmers by way of explanation. “I got approached by an agent after one of the matches in New Zealand and I signed for Bordeaux three days later. I have always wanted to play professional rugby so it wasn’t the most difficult decision of my life.
“I think I am the only guy from the UK at the club, oh, except for [former England flanker] Joe Worsley, who is defence coach. Rafa Ibanez [the one-time French hooker and captain] is the manager-head coach. I have spoken quite a lot with Joe just about how best to get on here, how to make my life easier, that kind of stuff. There are quite a lot of English speakers, which is good for me, although the French are really nice.
“I play in the Espoirs, which is an U23 team, but guys still drop down from the first team and play for us regardless of age. It is kind of a mixture of an age grade side and an A-team. We have had quite a few boys play up for the senior side, including Baptiste Serin, the France U20 scrum-half I played against last season. The standard of rugby is really high, with all the top teams in the [Espoirs] league. We travel to Montpellier soon.”
You have to admit it makes a change from the Borders’ circuit. It was tough at first being dropped into a brand new environment in a foreign country miles from friends and family but, since the only other option was none too appealing, the young Scot is keeping his head held high and Bordeaux does have its benefits.
The day we speak he reckons the temperature is around 25 degrees Celsius and, while that may mean extra layers for some of the locals, Chalmers was wandering around town in nothing more than a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. The temperature is not the only difference that the young Scot has had to adjust to. When the players arrive in the morning for the first training session of the day, everyone shakes hand, just once. It’s a cultural thing and probably a good one too.
“There are also a few kisses flying around,” says Chalmers with obvious amusement. “It is mainly between the French guys in the squad but sometimes they catch you unawares and ambush you.
“French clubs play very well at home,” replies the fly-half says when asked how Bordeaux stuck 51 points on Clermont in a recent match. With that in mind, the club’s narrow loss when scoring the only try of the match in Toulon was possibly the greater feat.
“We will be something close to our 30,000 capacity for every home match,” Chalmers warns Edinburgh about what they can expect this Friday. “It’s mental. I know the team that is playing [on Friday] because I have been training against them all week but it’s difficult to say how strong it is because the French always rotate their teams because it is such a long domestic season. I’ll just say that there are a few guys missing.
“The pack is huge, they are really big boys, but the danger man is Metui Talebula, the Fijian winger who is good as anything. He’s a Fijian and you know what they are like. Look out for Matt Clarkin too, the Kiwi breakaway and the club captain. He’s a good leader and a good player.”
One last question: who will win on Friday evening?
“Bordeaux,” the response comes without a moment’s hesitation. And if he’s right, at least one Scot will be sporting a broad smile at the final whistle.