Rugby World CupLetter from Lyons

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Singing Bohemian Rhapsody in a tram full of fans at the Rugby World Cup

A sojourn in Lyons for the Rugby World Cup can mean joining in an international singsong - followed by a meal with a difference

Sweet Caroline, oh, oh, oh, the good times never seemed ... so far away, at that point, based on being trapped in a steel canister, aka a tram, hermetically sealed for a 30-minute non-stop journey from the OL stadium to downtown Lyons, next to boozed-up supporters of different nationalities, the identity of which will be revealed during the trip.

It’s about 2½ hours after the final whistle of Uruguay’s win over Namibia and most of those scrambling for the last trams are pretty soused but in great spirits – seemingly vodka and gin, which they’re clutching in plastic containers.

The beeping ushers a last human backwash into the tram at a stagger, the doors close and, with that, the last remnants of fresh air are expunged. The chatter is quickly interrupted by what initially sounds like growling but turns into the Olympique Lyonnais chant, Une ville dans notre coeur. The tram is bouncing, the roof used for percussion as the locals put body and soul into it.

Before you could say “challenge accepted”, the songs come thick and fast, including Sweet Caroline and Hey Jude, but Bohemian Rhapsody is an absolute masterpiece, the staging a work of art. Everyone joins in from the start but when the song demands the back and forth, two groups separated by about 10 feet co-ordinate perfectly before everyone rips into the guitar solo. It’s a musical triumph.


It’s at that point that a Fun Boy Three tribute act breaks into a plaintive Swing Low but the chariot runs out of road very quickly and is immediately drowned out by a lusty rendition of La Marseillaise. A lone voice pipes up and Flower of Scotland is deemed acceptable to the general assembly, who join in.

The condensation runs in rivulets from the roof, down the windows to the floor but pretty much everyone is oblivious as they pause to consider what should be up next on the rugby supporters’ impromptu Spotify.

Some Americans end any debate by launching into John Denver’s Country Roads. “Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah river. Life is old there, older than the trees, younger than the mountains, growin’ like a breeze.”

Two things emerge that are truisms when it comes to singsongs: there is someone in the company who knows all the words and the majority explode at chorus time. “Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong, West Virginia, mountain momma, take me home country roads.” There are three verses in total and when the word “moonshine” is bellowed, a wistful look comes over several faces.

The medley continues until the doors of the tram open, catching the majority by surprise; most had temporarily forgotten they weren’t at a gig. Handshakes, smiles and, for a handful, the chance to audition for innocent bystanders sitting outside a cafe.

Musically it couldn’t have been further removed from what had taken place in the Westfield La Part-Dieu shopping centre – think Dundrum on steroids – at lunchtime that day. Shoppers were treated to an orchestra playing classical music for about an hour. The onlookers claimed every vantage point for three stories above to listen to an exquisite experience.

At one point there was the unmistakable opening bars of George Bizet’s Carmen, the Toreador Song, or if preferred from the American musical Carmen Jones, Stand up and Fight, the only incongruity that there wasn’t a Munster rugby jersey in sight. However, the Irish province’s “ownership” of the song remains undiminished, a couple of New Zealanders having a conversation about “the Munster rugby song”.

The footfall through the doors of the Westfield centre is quite an arresting sight. Waiting for a colleague there gave time to indulge in a non-scientific but revelatory sampling; 82 people through one entrance – there are more than a handful of those – in 60 seconds. The third floor of the centre is given over entirely to restaurants, while there are many other establishments dotted around the other levels.

Lyons has long been regarded as France’s capital of gastronomy and is famous for several dishes, the most obvious being the Salade Lyonnaise or potatoes à la Lyonnaise, but there are a few other local delicacies, one of which is the Tablier de sapeur, the Sapper’s Apron, which dates to the time of Napoleon III, so called because of the resemblance to the leather aprons worn by soldiers in the 19th century.

For those dying to know, it is made from beef tripe, marinated in white wine, lemon juice, mustard and spices. It is then covered in breadcrumbs and pan-fried until golden brown. It is accompanied by a gribiche sauce (hard-boiled eggs) with mayonnaise, potatoes, seasonal vegetables or a green salad.

There were two other recommendations served in the bouchons, the term for the local restaurants: a quenelle, a wheat semolina shell in the shape of an egg or canister, which traditionally contains creamed pike, served with a Nantua sauce; and a semi-cured cheese delicacy called cervelle de Canut.

The Westfield centre had none of these restaurants and was instead largely populated by chain brands with some Korean and Italian outlets. But a 25-minute walk to beautiful Vieux Lyons, the old part of the city, carried the reward of traditional Lyons fare, whether it was Michelin-star cuisine or from the more intimate bouchons.

Lyons will host two more matches this week, both of which will command keen Irish interest, as New Zealand take on Uruguay on Thursday (8pm, Irish time), and France host Italy on Friday (8pm, Irish time). If Ireland beat Scotland next Saturday, they will know the identity of their quarter-final opponents.

Now, it’s time to go and do some revision on the potential setlist for the tram journeys home.