Rugby World CupWorld Cup Diary

Johnny Watterson’s World Cup diary: So nice in Nice as rugby tribes enjoy ‘la belle vie’

Supporters have helped extend the summer season on the Côte d’Azur but only when the sun shines

Saturday: Old Town escape worth the hike

Close your eyes, think of France and Old Nice and a picture postcard town is what you get. Tall tenement houses, few of them in a straight line form a quilt-work of narrow, shadowed streets. There are cobblestones and pastel-hued buildings and the smell of cats. The past, they say, is still present.

We took the climb from the promenade ascending up the steps to the leafy, hilltop Parc de la Colline du Château. Built on a steep rock that towers over the bay of Nice on one side and the port on the other, the Coupe de Monde de Rugby village was just about visible. Like Ireland, street names have two versions, French and in the local Nissart dialect (niçart). Under the luxury yachts in the bay, they have built a car park, which opened in 2015. It is, obviously, underwater and two glazed panels form the ceiling. Here 93 metres up you can, ahem ... see the dent of a cannon ball in the wall. As this is France, naturally, there are two cafes.

Sunday: Bottle of smoke

The English and Japanese arrived for their match in Stade de Nice, enough of them at least for some cultural surveillance. The Japanese walk around in groups, form giant scrums on the beach, laugh a lot and take photographs with selfie sticks. They wear broad brimmed hats that keep their pale-skinned faces in shadow. The English, not unlike like the Irish, take off their tops and can’t resist plunging into the Mediterranean. A fresh wind has whipped up the surf enough to make them think twice.

At the Stade de Nice we cheerfully present our laptop bags. The security man reaches into the bag of the person in front and pulls out a Volvic water bottle (tournament sponsors) that had been a gift and which we had previously placed on our work desks in the stadium in Bordeaux. No matter, the security man takes it from the bag and enters into a “method school” of acting out how it is possible to commit great violence with the sponsor’s gift. “Na, na, na mate,” says the London accent just as the security man holds the water bottle like grenade. “Na, na, this is rugby mate.” Confiscated.

Monday: Life’s a beach, until it rains

The rain belted down. People scattered from the beaches. Everything leaked. The sun came out and it was like nothing had happened. Today was a bad day’s takings for the lads down at the Beau Rivage, a stuffed cushion and parasol square of beach across the road from the casino and McDonald’s. A double sized lounger (parasol included) costs €75 for the day. An ordinary lounger from 10am to 7pm is €28. A towel and parasol are €5, a locker €7. The first line of beds closest to the sea are €5 more than the ones behind.

In some of the beach clubs they provide a carpet into the surf so the patrons don’t break toenails or bruise their feet on the stones, which are sucked out and pushed back into heaps by shifty waves. In another beach club up the Autoroute du Soleil (highway of the sun), they have a large wagon with two giant wheels with steps up the back and steps down the front, which they push out into deep water, so you don’t have to trouble your feet at all. It’s comforting to know how easily first world problems can be solved by opening a wallet.

Tuesday: Summer’s gone, time to wrap things up

Did we mention the Beau Rivage? One day it’s slinging Château Minuty by the crate, the next they are tearing the place down. The beach club to go to be pampered has become a sad looking heap of planks and parasols and local lads dismantling what now looks like an undernourished and exposed piece of waterfront real estate. The Lady is naked.

Over the last few days the seafront has begun to take the look of Bundoran at the end of the season, when the tarpaulin is dragged from storage, the dodgems stop and the lights go out. But the World Cup rolls on and Scotland are back here on Sunday to face Tonga. Tongan defence coach Dale MacLeod, declined to sugarcoat their arrival or their intentions. “What will they fear from us? What everyone probably fears is just contact, the physical brutality the boys can bring,” he promised. Well, that should shake up restive autumnal season around these balmy parts.

Wednesday: Travel in style, and silence

Au revoir Nice, saluté Paris. The TGV is chugging north. It cuts across the south coast, takes a sharp right at Marseilles and catapults up into Gare de Lyons in around six hours. The South African team were supposed to be billeted in Toulon but did a runner after their last match in Bordeaux and travelled directly to Paris without going back to base camp.

The TGV helpfully provides a workstation and power point with free wifi. This one is a double decker and upstairs I’m watching the baked hills of south France pass by at close to 200mph. The Enterprise from Dublin to Belfast, it is not. Since 2017 the TGVs have been marketed under the brand name inOui, French for unheard of, or exceptional. They even provide a seat outside the main car in case you need to make a private mobile phone call. Loose translation: Phone usage is strictly prohibited as there is nothing more epically boring or awesomely irritating than listening to your conversation. Chapeau SNCF.