Thursday, September 17th, 2023: Narbonne-Toulouse.
We are off to Toulouse this afternoon, on the 15:09 SNCF, arriving at Toulouse Matabiau 16:42. Marty and his wife are going via Carcassonne to meet the ‘Teddy’ Tedesco fan club. The Roosters NRL fans are staying in a converted castle in Caunes-Minervois, a small medieval town dating from the eighth century. They are immersed in the whole experience, have their local guide Martinique and go around shouting Le Coq to all and sundry. If the Wallabies choke, then they always have Les Bleus.
This morning we dressed in our Wallaby supporters kit and went to Les Halles de Narbonne. Fabulous French market and it’s fantastic to wander around and see the daily French life. No wonder they don’t travel much. The food, wine, style, the women, and it turns out the men! We were having an aperitif and turned our backs for a minute when a poster caught our eye.
“Narbonne, la passion rugby. Chez les Belzons tout est histoire de famille… et de rugby”.
Using my peripheral vision, I saw what could only be our wives, and they were in the company of half the Narbonne seniors rugby club, sampling the wine and cheese of Les Belzons de famille. Next thing you know we are in their restaurant, Chez Les Belzons. My host is Gilles Belzons, son of former rugby player Andre Belzons and father of rugby player Paul Belzons, all three flankers of the Racing Club de Narbonne RFC.
They arrange a van to take us to the station, and we are off to Toulouse. The wives are getting a bit annoying now. They are looking at various World Cup team photos and choosing the team they’d most like to be with on New Caledonia. France, Italy, Argentina and Spain are their semi-finalists. Since we have been in France, they have started to act like school girls.
The tension and rivalry are building for the big game. In Toulouse, it’s palpable. Auckland City RFC now provides the majority of the ABs with coach Leon McDonald. When the team lists come out, Peter will have a busy night exploring tactics, picking run-on sides, the bench, tips and scores and then posting it all on The Roar.
At 16:40 we pulled into Toulouse-Matabiau, the central railway station in Toulouse. We could walk to Hôtel d’Orsay, two minutes from the station. Dominic was waiting for us, the son of my old friend Cliff who died of a brain tumour in 2005. Dominic is fluent in English, Spanish and French, and it would appear nightclubs and young women. He’s got a job with Clipperton, a French technology M&A boutique, now owned by someone called Natixis.
With the girls window-shopping, we get together to talk rugby with the blokes and Dominic. A couple of other Wallabies supporters join us who we just met, and they turn out to be NRL fans. They want to know how rugby got into this situation in the first place. Why did the NRL decide to team up with the ARU and what about New Zealand. What happened to them, they were the best in the world, rugby-mad.
“Over to you CW”, comes the chorus.
“Well, hmm, ahh, well let’s go back to 2020 briefly and then move forward. I’m glad Dom is here, he works in the investment banking world over here and might be able to shed some light on the mystery surrounding some deals and who’s who in the sports zoo”.
Dominic then chimes in “Let’s take Oakwell Sports Advisory for example. They brokered a $250 million loan for the NRL in 2020. If you look at it, cynically, Oakwell has been retained to source deals for CVC Capital. They got a well connected guy onto the NZRU board, not even a yellow card for conflict of interest but in the end, it never went anywhere. The smarter money was City Football Group who took over the Auckland Blues, which became Auckland City RFC, kick-starting the City Rugby Global Portfolio. Along came Sydney City RFC, twinned with Sydney City RLFC. That was pretty easy to swallow until City Football poached Scott Robertson to be rugby director of Major League Rugby, coach of Seattle City RFC and break-dancing consultant for the Seattle Storm. By February 2021 the ARU was in administration, CVC had walked away from the NZRU, the Crusaders had become the Saracens, and trans-Tasman rivalry would become a fever pitch. Not just local politics, either. Giants of the private equity sports world, CVC and City Football Group, were facing off. Now that is interesting.”
Just then, the women’s auxiliary came into view, and we were off with Dominic for dinner.