Local businesses play their part in making Challenge Vaquerin a success In preparation for the week-long competition, the towns of Millau, St Affrique and Camares were decked out in posters announcing the arrival of Glasgow Warriors and Sale Sharks to join the "local" teams: USAP Perpignan, Castres Olympique, MHRC Montpellier, Mont de Marsan, SC Albi, AS Beziers and RC Narbonne. The images of Dan Parks and Sebastien Chabal were plastered across every shop window, bus shelter and restaurant place-setting in the area in the run up to this well-recognised competition.
Glasgow Warriors were involved in the first match of the tournament, playing Castres Olympique in Millau. The match was well-attended by approxmately 1,500 locals who were entertained by the rugby, as well as a bar, and post-match dinner with all the players. The match was also the first opportunity for Glasgow supporters to see the new team home kit in action. Coach Sean Lineen also took the opportunity to introduce young players, Chris Kinloch, Dave Whiteford and Greg Francis to the Warriors squad, who all played their part in pulling back to defeat Castres 21-26.
Former Glasgow hooker Scott Lawson was in action for Sale Next up, two mid-week games took place in St Affrique in front of an even larger crowd. First up was the local clash between Montpellier and Mont de Marsan, in temperatures that were still in the high 30s after 5pm. Second to play, USAP Perpignan took on visitors Sale Sharks. Scotland players were present on both sides - with Chris Cusiter, Rory Lamont and Scott Lawson all playing, while the Warriors players and staff enjoyed a break from their training sessions to spectate.
Two hours before kick-off and the bars were filling up And finally, after a week of anticipation, when the early games were all suggesting that a win for Glasgow would put them ahead of any other teasm in the tournament, the final day of the Challenge Vaquerin arrived. Camares is a very small town and the whole place came to a standstill as everyone turned up to the local stade municpal for an afternoon of rugby. Two hours before the first kick-off, and the queues at the temporary bars were already 3-deep as the 3000-strong crowd arrived in good time.
The first match between Albi and Narbonne was a decidedly local affair, and the majority of the crowd got behind the Albi side. Despite the soaring heat, the French still found the energy to make the match a very agressive affair, with three yellow cards and countless fights!
The locals enjoyed Glasgow's brand of rugby And so to Glasgow and their second match of the tournament. While the boys on the pitch were classily scoring tries, the rest of the squad were doing their part to entertain the crowds. Countless autographs were signed and photos were posed for. Ed Kalman, in his role as water boy, raced on and off the pitch to the amusement of the supporters. At the final whistle, the team was cheered and applauded from the pitch.
By the end of the day, once all three matches had been played, Glasgow were the only team to have won two matches during the tournament, but still there was no mention of a tournament winner. When asked, some local supporters even suggested that as the Sale Sharks v Montpellier was the last game of the day, it must have been the final, and therefore Montpellier the winners. But eventually the MC took to the stage and announced that Glasgow had won the 2008 Challenge Vaquerin. Despite the language barriers, the French tournament organisers made it clear that Glasgow Warriors would be welcomed back next year to retain their title.
Glasgow took a young squad of players to the tournament As Sean Lineen has said in several press releases, the tournament gave the squad an opportunity to warm up before the new season and try out the ELVs, but it was also a wonderful chance for the small towns and communities involved to embrace the sport in order to remember a rugby legend. Hopefully the Warriors will benefit from the training and matches in France in advance of the new season, and more importantly that the invitation to return next summer will be accepted.
A selection of the many photos taken during the tournament can be seen in our gallery.