In his second column, Oyannaxâ€™s Dan Lewis, the former St Josephâ€™s College fly half, returns to France for pre-season ahead of his second year as a professional.
Across the Channel, Back to it.
Thereâ€™s a weird similarity between starting a new term at school, and starting back at Pre season. With both there is an undeniable sense of nervousness and excitement, as well as the hope that this year will go just the way you plan. There is the same comfort that comes from seeing numerous familiar faces. And there is also the same awareness of hours of hard work that is coming your way. Â Like heading back to school after a long break, the stuff you had spent ages learning and perfecting the last year, may not be quite as up to scratch as it once wasâ€¦ in this case, my French wasnâ€™t exactly on fire when I returned from England.
Arriving back in France to start my second season was a lot easier than this time last year, however to say the final preparations and the journey itself was without a moment of nervousness would be a lie. Thereâ€™s still the saying goodbye to close family and friends, and the packing of your life into a suitcase, and the glimpse out the plane window of the country you grew up in as you take off. However, from touching down in France, seeing my apartment and belongings, and driving past the clubâ€™s stadium; it didnâ€™t take long for all those little negative thoughts to disappear, and instead the excitement for the coming season takes over â€“ Iâ€™m a keeno like that.
Oyonnax is an incredible part of the world. It is fantastically scenic, with soaring mountains and beautiful lakes. And as it turns out, this scenery is extremely useful when it comes to preseason, because not only can the Alps be aesthetically pleasing, but they also make for a pretty decent running course. And this would lay the foundation for a testing week. However I feel that every rugby player, and every athlete, come to think of it, must get that same satisfaction from a grueling fitness test or session, where they know that they have literally emptied their tank.
I personally enjoy waking up the morning after a particularly demanding day, feeling stiff in almost every muscle, and lacing up to do it all again.
Returning back to France after a month off did remind me of the challenges Iâ€™ll face every day as I continue to adapt to a new country, culture and language. But much more than that, it reminded me of the unbelievable opportunity that Iâ€™m lucky enough to have, both in and out of rugby. Meeting new guys joining the club this season is not only the chance to learn skills from different players, but also get to know completely new people, and hopefully, make some good friends.
Itâ€™s also good knowing that the opportunity is working in a sense. Just this week I had a bit of trouble getting signal on my French phone, I wasnâ€™t sure what Iâ€™d done, but it didnâ€™t seem like it was going to work any time soon. This time last year Iâ€™m pretty ashamed to admit that this kind of problem would have rendered me paralysed with nerves due to the fact that I would have known it could only be resolved by leaving my apartment and having to use my very limited French to get my message across. That wasnâ€™t the case this time around, I popped to the nearest phone dealer, and much like the rest of the town I was greeted immediate help and it was quickly sorted. Â However there was a small problem with where I had parked outside the shop, and I donâ€™t think it was helped when I spoke with the manager and was using the word for â€˜planeâ€™ rather than that for a â€˜carâ€™. But we got past that with an awkward silence and some body language.
Itâ€™s little things like that, that you wouldnâ€™t even think twice about in your home country and home tongue that can cause a fair bit of stress in a foreign environment, but can make you feel good about yourself once it becomes a smaller and smaller issue to overcome. Little wins like that, can make your day.
So both in training, and simply in living, it is very much the start of the season; but already in both categoriesâ€¦ it is good to be back.
By Dan Lewis
Dan Lewis is currently an Espoir at French Top 14 club Oyonnax. He was fly half for the St Josephâ€™s College 1st XV during their triumph at the 2013 St Josephâ€™s Festival, playing for England U18 Clubs and Schools later in that 2013/14 season.