Drinking with.... The Rugby Export
Rugby : Chatting with Jack Parsons
Jack Parsons left the UK in 2012 to pursue his dream of being a pro baller. Jack is currently playing for SAP in Parthenay, but we caught up with him on more familiar shores, and in all too familiar surroundings...
HOLD THE FRONT PAGE : 26th MAY JACK SIGNS DEAL WITH FEDERALE 1 CLUB RC BLOIS
Venue : The Outside Chance
Format : Beers, several
When you think of French Rugby, big pay packets and some of the top teams in Europe come to mind. SAP are play in Federale 3, which is the 5th tier of French rugby and consists of 226 clubs in 21 pools of 8. Quite the battle then to get from there to the lofty reaches of the Top 14.
The Sporting Blog: So first up,How did you find yourself in Parthenay? What's the story?
Jack Parsons: When I came back from Australia in April 2015 I had the Summer off and was trialling with London Welsh for a bit. They didn't offer me anything and my agent talked to me about the offer in France. We had a chat with them and it sounded good, new culture, new place, so I signed with them.
TSB: Did you just visit the one time before signing?
JP: Yeah just once. Had the chat, looked around the facilities and that was it.
TSB : Was it because it was the best option or the only option or just a good fit at the time?
JP : A bit of both yeah. Other boys are playing from July and it was getting near October, I really needed to be playing and the club made me feel welcome.
TSB: A lot of our readers won't be familiar with Federale 3 rugby. What sort of guys are you playing against? Are they all young like yourself and looking to go to the next level?
JP: It's like a mix of young academy boys from Top 14 sides who are loaned out and overseas players. There are quite a few foreign players in the league; Fijians, Romanians, Italians and so on. Probably 50% of our team is French (at SAP Parthenay) .
TSB: So are a lot of the French players there journeymen who've been battling away for a while?
JP : Some of the boys are local, I have a friend who's been there since he was about 12 and played through the age groups. We have a real mixture. Our backs coach is a former Fijian captain who played in 2 World cups.
TSB : We often hear that Rugby in France is more professional or at least taken more professionally at the lower levels....
JP : Yeah definitely, we have our own Strength and conditioning coach,diet and nutritionist, analysts....
TSB : What's the locals view on overseas players?
JP : You have the older generation that come in for a beer after the game and they are great as long as they can see you putting 100% in and that you care about the club.
TSB: How about fitting in culturally? It's often overlooked at the top level but I guess even more so in the lower tiers?
JP : At the start it was very hard. I didn't know any French before getting there. The culture yeah... I mean when you meet the boys at training you're kissing them! No handshakes, no high fives. There are different kisses depending on where your from; 4 if your from the South, 2 if your from Paris. Just getting to know that sort of stuff was tricky.
TSB : Where did you live when you first got there?
JP : They gave me my own apartment when I got there and sorted everything out for me.
TSB: With regards to coaching and specifically tactics, is that something that you just pick up or does it take a bit longer to get right compared to being at home?
JP : Really hard at the start, especially in team talks I had to have the translator come and sit with me. Again when doing analysis sessions he's coming with me. The backs coach spoke English so that helped but the 1st team coach, who was a former prop and pretty scary guy, I know when he was pissed off with me as I knew the swear words. When he said my name after a swear word then I knew I'd done something wrong!
TSB : Haha, and what about when planning for the next game?
JP : I'd talk to the backs coach directly and ask him "Do I need to play in behind, do they have rush defence, are we playing out wide?" He'd let me know what we needed to do. Like at half time he'd come and let me know what we were or weren't doing right.
TSB: And how has being over there affected relationships here? You have a long term Girlfriend based in the UK, how does that play out?
JP : Well I left for Australia when I was 18, and I was at boarding school so I've been 'on my own' for a while. My Mum and Dad have come all over the World to see me play. In Australia, France, when I represented England they came to South Africa.
TSB : And how about with your Girlfriend?
JP : Yeah it's tough, she tries to come over for at least one weekend every month, Thurs-Sunday. She's very supportive, she knows I want to try and follow my dreams. If she ever does want to come out and live with me that would be great but I think she'd be bored every day!!
TSB: Is there a more professional feel in terms of stuff like nutrition and how you look after yourself? Or is it largely down to you to keep an eye on that yourself?
JP : I cook for myself but when we are at training the meals are laid on. It's tough though walking to training when there are patisseries everywhere but we have to stay away from it!
TSB : Do the club expect you to be present at dinners and other club events?
JP : Yeah so sometimes we have a dinner before the game for members and supporters. After the game depending on whether we win or lose most of the boys stick around after the game with the directors and stuff. The beers free so it's good to mingle!
TSB: Our readers will be keen to hear about the differences between the post match session in France and here in the UK?
JP: Yeah it is different. In England you do Man of the match and Dick of the day and so on. We don't have any of that. The Man of the match is announced over the tannoy but there are no dirty pints or anything like that. We don't have any initiations or anything like that.
TSB : A bit of a relief!
JP: Yeah I have had some shocking ones. But yeah sometimes we do get pretty drunk. If we have a week off after the game we'll definitely have a few beers.
TSB: How does the experience compare to playing in Australia?
JP: Well the weather for a start. Sydney it didn't get below 20 degrees in Winter and after training you're going to the beach. It was also different in terms of the professionalism. A lot of the Kiwi and Islanders in Australia just loved going out on the drink. We were playing one level below Super Rugby (for Manly) and you could tell the difference between the top pro's. When the Waratahs boys were coming back from injury they'd play with us; Michael Hooper came and played with us, Ben Volavola also. They wouldn't touch any of it.
TSB: And I guess it was different in terms of how much attention the club paid you compared to now?
JP : Yeah, there were a lot more big time players out there. But I still got an apartment, flights paid for, car and so on. I loved it there, just after my 2 years no one offered to sponsor me for a visa so I had to come home.
TSB: I'm sure you got not stick as and Englishman playing out there....
JP : Well I'm big into my cricket too, and took some stick over that. Obviously I'm quite pale so I was wearing sun cream in July which is the middle of winter. Again, more stick.
TSB: What are you hoping to achieve in the next couple of years with your rugby?
JP : I've given myself until I'm 29 to make it to Premiership or Top 14 level. After that I'll sit and reflect. I'm 23 now... I've taken a lot of inspiration from people like Jamie Vardy. People develop in different ways at different ages and things can also come to you quickly, and get taken away quickly. These next two years are crucial for me so happy to be playing regularly.
JP : Not for me, I think they need quicker people and with better hands to beat New Zealand. If we are going to beat them we're going to have to move the ball. They have guys playing second row with hands like centres!
TSB: Lions prediction?
JP: There is a chance as always. The intensity is unreal, 6 weeks of test match level rugby every week, even in the provincial games. It doesn't get any tougher than that.