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Ken Borland

SA has strong ties with France & they owned the previous World Cup there … 0

Posted on July 11, 2022 by Ken

There are ties between South Africa and France dating back to the 17th century and the arrival of the Huguenots, but relations, especially when it came to local rugby fans, were strained when the French were awarded next year’s Rugby World Cup instead of our country, which WorldRugby’s independent panel had recommended as the best option.

Nevertheless, the French were on a charm offensive in South Africa this week, the tourism boards from their southern regions welcoming potential travellers for the tournament in September/October 2023. The Springboks will be based in Toulon, the port city right on the southern tip of France.

As the visiting delegation pointed out, South Africa is a very important travel market. Studying the pre-Covid tourism figures for travel from France to South Africa, one sees a figure of 135 000 visitors per annum. And the number of South Africans visiting France is equal to that, also around 135 000.

The south of France, in particular, looks a magnificent tourist destination, combining great historical sites, stunning natural landscapes and, of course, food and wine to savour.

The Springboks owned the 2007 Rugby World Cup when it was last held in France and several of those champions – the likes of Bryan Habana, Juan Smith, Bakkies Botha, Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, John Smit and Victor Matfield  – have made big impressions playing for clubs in France.

And the country made a lasting impression on them.

“South Africa has extremely good ties with France, I have fond memories of playing for Clermont in 2007/8. It was beautiful and the French cities are the closest to the South African ones you will find in Europe.

“There’s the beach, bush, skiing, the wine and food, e-biking, all sorts of things to do,” Smit said at the French embassy in Pretoria.

“When I moved to France, I thought I would get away from a country where rugby is a religion, but in Toulon they just love rugby,” Matfield said. “We had 50 000 people come and watch our first training session.

“I remember the big celebration the Springboks had in Marseilles when Australia and New Zealand were knocked out of the 2007 World Cup … and then we nearly got ourselves into trouble the next day against Fiji.

“But everything is close by in France, you can go skiing and two hours later you’re in Monaco,” Matfield said.

The man of the match in the 2007 final also spoke about how organised everything was in France and how much effort the hosts put into ensuring the Springboks could travel around the country with ease.

The 2023 Springboks are going to be staying at Les Sablettes, a French Riviera peninsula into the Mediterreanean Sea with gorgeous views over the crystal-clear blue waters. They will have their own private boat to ferry them across the bay to the famous Stade Mayol, where they will be training.

South Africa are going to play two matches (v Scotland & probably Tonga) in nearby (66km) Marseilles, the oldest city in France, established 26 centuries ago!

Nice is nearly 150km away in the opposite direction and the winter resort town of European aristocracy. Known as the Queen of the Côte d’Azur, it is also a gateway to the Southern Alps.

North-west of Toulon are the vineyards and lavender fields of the Luberon, the area of Provence where Van Gogh enjoyed the most prolific time of his career. Cezanne was also a native of the area.

The Luberon was also a stronghold of the Huguenots, so many South Africans can claim to have their roots in the area. And, unless the Springboks are playing against Les Bleus, which many are tipping as the final, they can be guaranteed to have the hosts firmly behind them.

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