When Andy Goode, the England fly-half, packed away his Leicester Tigers shirt for the final time last summer, he was intent on embracing a different culture in his new home across the English Channel.
Goode is toast of the French
When Andy Goode, the England fly-half, packed away his Leicester Tigers shirt for the final time last summer, he was intent on embracing a different culture in his new home across the English Channel. Leaving the United Kingdom to start afresh with the French club Brive meant a new language and way of life, and he made a conscious effort to commit to both.
Yet some old habits die hard. Before making his way in rugby Goode was offered professional terms with Warwickshire's cricket team. He says his claim to fame is that he used to captain the England's Ashes winner Ian Bell in age-group cricket. It was one home comfort that just had to make the trip with him. "I've got my Sky Box out here so I was able to keep in touch with the Ashes," says Goode, whose side take on the Heineken Cup holders Leinster tomorrow. "One of my best mates out here is Australian, so it was even better."
With one of the most cosmopolitan squads in the game at his new club Goode did not have to look far to indulge his passion for cricket, but attempts to introduce it to the natives were less successful. "We had a bit of a knock-around game of cricket, with a tennis ball and a bat and the French just could not get hold of it. They thought it was baseball," he says. It will probably not be the last time Goode attempts to introduce something from home to his new friends, but he says he is well aware he is the one who should be doing the learning. "You have to live like a French person, you cannot say, 'I want to live like an English person in France'. You live how the locals live," he says.
"In England everyone is in a race to be somewhere and get things done. In France, especially down here in Brive, there is a much easier way of life." Living like a local may be easier said than done at a French club captained by a Welshman, Alix Popham, who have a squad comprising 12 different nationalities. Of the 14 teams in France's top division, only Toulon - the team of Jonny Wilkinson and Joe van Niekerk - and Racing Club de Metro in Paris have less French players on their playing staff.
Against Llanelli Scarlets last weekend, Brive's full-back, Fabrice Estebanez, was the only Frenchman in a back-line that otherwise included three Englishmen, an Argentine, an Australian, plus the New Zealand Sevens star, Viliame Waqasaduadua. The foreign players are given two French classes per week by the club, but even the keenest language student would be forgiven for lapsing amid such an anglophone dressing-room.
Not so for Goode, who has stuck to the task, due in large part to his desire to converse with his daughter's new school-teachers. "I still find myself speaking French, even to the English guys. You have to be bilingual, even if you get a second to look around. As a fly-half you have to be able to communicate with everyone," he says. "When I came over here there were English guys like Steve Thompson and Ben Cohen, but what I tried to do last year was hang out with the French boys as much as possible.
"The French boys took me in straight away. They take the mickey out of my French because I'm not perfect, but they understand what I am saying." Two facets of a rugby player's lot remain universal: the game, and the practical jokes. "There's a couple of French guys who play a lot of prep-school style jokes," adds Goode. "You will often find your boots tied together or shampoo in your water-bottle, stuff like that. They are more annoying than funny."
Goode made a brave decision to swap Leicester Tigers, where he had been a teammate of the now England manager Martin Johnson, for Brive at the start of last season. With English rugby's two poster boys, Danny Cipriani and Wilkinson, as direct rivals for his position, he could easily have been out of sight and out of mind in the Limousin region of France. Yet fate dictated that it was Goode who started this year's Six Nation's at No 10.