Toulon rugby fans have long since been thought of as the rowdiest and most passionate of rugby fans, creating an atmosphere like you have never felt before especially when on home soil. So with BT Sport broadcasting the round five match of the European Rugby Champions Cup on Sunday against Premiership side Wasps, the Pitch team took the opportunity to take three media to visit this historic rugby city and see for ourselves what the fuss was about.
On arrival at the ground, even with two hours before kick-off, the streets around Stade Mayol were lined in a sea of red with fans cheering and chanting for a team they clearly believe will win the Europe’s premier competition for a fourth consecutive season. So why is it that this special group bring a whole new meaning to the word rugby fan?
As the team bus pulls up to the ground, there are no barriers, no security, no-one to stop anyone in the crowd from mobbing their beloved players – something that you would never see at any English Premiership ground, which are roped off from every corner. Instead, as the players disembark from their bus, the fans instantly separate each side, creating their very own tunnel for them to walk through. As the players walk through, clearly deep in thought, the crowd are chanting the iconic Pilou Pilou; a song that describes the players as fearsome warriors coming down from the mountains to the sea. The atmosphere was out of this world and I can’t think of a better way to help get your team riled-up and ready to play.
Before kick-off we had the pleasure of spending the day with the BT Sport broadcasting team; Ugo Monye, Nick Mullins, Sarra Elgan and special guest Nick Kennedy, shadowing them as they prepared to go on air. An experienced punditry team, you could even see the excitement in their eyes of being in this iconic rugby stadium in front of 15,000 screaming French fans.
The match itself was heart-breaking for Wasps, leading until the clock moved into the red zone it looked like they were going to become the first team to win in Europe at Stade Mayol and earn themselves a place in the quarter-finals as winners of pool five. But like always with Toulon, even at the very end they can be unstoppable and with the crowd still roaring we saw Australian wing Drew Mitchell cross the line in the 81st minute making the final score 15-11 to Toulon. The crowd quite literally erupted, off their seats, newspapers thrown in the air from every person (apparently this is a Toulon tradition), it felt like you were witnessing a Rugby World Cup Final rather than a pool stage match in a European tournament.
These fans quite literally feel like their team is their family and unlike English crowds so often there was never a silent moment, even in the 80th minute with Wasps two points ahead, every French fan in the stadium knew what was coming. With only one point between these two sides at the top of pool five, we can’t wait to see what happens next weekend. Will it be the French or English who move into the knock out stages of the Champions Cup? Tune into BT Sport Europe this weekend to find out.