Barkley banks on Racing

He may have problems with the language and the péripherique but Olly Barkley’s left boot was working sweetly against Munster as he gathered 14 points on his debut for Racing Metro

The Racing Metro changing room was a pigsty after their 22-17 win over Munster at the Stade de France on Saturday.

Water bottles laying abandoned on the floor, strapping strewn carelessly on the ground and on the benches, ripped off and cast aside in the heady excitement of an unexpected win over the two-time champions.

One player remained as the three stooges – that’ll be Léo from Midi-Olympique, Mark from the Irish Times and myself – were led inside for a quick chat.

Thankfully, it was the guy we had been waiting the previous half hour for, the former Bath and England fly-half Olly Barkley. Showered, smartly dressed and keenly coiffed, he was an oasis of presentability.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” apologised Olly. “I just had to have a bit of treatment.”

“Nothing serious, I hope.”

“No, just took a knock on my knee about ten minutes in. It was ok but just wanted to get it seen to. Be fine for next week.”

The introductions and niceties over, it should have been time for the questions to start. Instead, another interruption.

“Here, Olly,” came a booming bark from the door. “You want us to take you bag out to the coach?

The unmistakeable figure of Simon Raiwalui, the former Fiji lock forward, who ended his career at Racing where he is now the general manager, apparently with responsibility for kit bags. I did some Top 14 commentary with Simon at Eurosport last year so wandered over to greet him. He looked at me blankly.

“Hi Simon, it’s Barney….I had a shave and a bit of a trim since I last saw you.”

His eyes lit up in recognition.

“Jees, mate, didn’t recognize ya’. Jees that’s quite a difference. How’re ya goin?”

A few moments later and it was back to Olly Barkley who, in the spirit of adventure, deserves a pat on the back for giving up a cosy last few years in Bath and taking what will be a hard but rewarding stint in French rugby.

“It’s been a weird four weeks,” said Olly. “Everything moved so fast but it is a very nice club, very welcoming.”

The first problem, needless to say, is the language. The game against Munster was the 30-year-old’s first start since arriving just ten days before. It saw him taking the number ten jersey positioned between Maxime Machenaud, a Frenchman, and Juan Martin Hernandez, an Argentine.

“I don’t speak any French yet so the calls were pretty interesting, especially as Juan only arrived late and we didn’t actually have time for the back line to have a practice together.”

It took them half an hour and the withdrawal of Munster outside-half Ronan O’Gara with a hamstring injury but they got there in the end. Indeed O’Gara’s departure was perhaps the pivotal moment of the match.

“He was kicking fantastically well as we knew he would. So that was a bit of a blow for them.

“There aren’t many sides better at closing out games in Europe so when he went off then maybe that let us back into the game. There was a bit of luck involved but you need a bit of luck to win tight games like this.”

On the field, it was a pretty decent opener for Barkley. Once O’Gara had gone he settled into a nice rhythm, kicked his goals and looked like a player who has won 23 caps for England.

As a medical joker he will be key in Racing’s hopes not just of reaching the last eight of the European Cup but also of making it into the top six of the Top 14 and into the end of season play-offs.

The communications will doubtless improve as Barkley’s French begins to pick up. He is taking private lessons to try and get there quicker.

The other problem, though, is it seems, the traffic.

“I can’t get my head round this péripherique. It’s horrible isn’t it. Cars coming here, there and everywhere. That will take some getting used to. I think I may have to get myself a scooter, that might help a bit.”

And maybe just a little help with the tidying up.

Advertisements