AS THE REST OF THE WORLD HEADS TO FRANCE TO PLAY CLUB RUGBY, LOUIS PICAMOLES HAS STRUCK OUT IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION TO ENGLAND AND TO NORTHAMPTON. AND THE BIG CHEESE IS SETTLING IN VERY NICELY, THANK YOU.
It’s said the French invented the word ‘formidable’ because they were short of a sufficient adjective to describe Louis Picamoles. And you can understand why, given that standing next to him feels as though you’ve been surprised by a small, solar eclipse. Certainly he casts a wide shadow and bows to absolutely no one except, that is, his wife.
‘Well, Mailis knows a lot of judo so I’m very nice with her,’ he says. ‘She doesn’t do it so much now but she used to do it for many years. So I have to behave when I’m at home. I am very careful.’
In a magnificent seven years with the mighty Toulouse, Louis Picamoles was both a rock and a hard place yet with deft hands and nimble feet, astonishingly so for such a mountain of a man. At his best – which was most weekends – it was like watching someone’s Dad playing for the Under Thirteens, a player who bestrides narrow worlds like a colossus.
‘No question, he’s great for us,’ says coach Alex King. ‘He’s a world-class player in a pivotal position and we’re lucky to have him. Right now, it’s just getting that clarity of message – our number nines are having to learn the French for left and right which is a challenge for Lee Dickson – but Louis speaks decent English and he’s a fabulous rugby player so there isn’t much to tell him.’
For all that, Louis Picamoles still isn’t the broadest beam in the team. A brief word with Kevin the Kit Man – always good for a natter is Kevin – confirms that Louis’ shirt is a waif-like 3XXL but Kieran Brookes takes a 5XXL, not that the extra chest seems to have emboldened the tight-head prop.
‘I haven’t actually come across him yet in tackling practice which has taken some doing,’ says Kieran. ‘But I should imagine it’s pretty painful. We call him King Louis ’cos he’s the King of France, isn’t he?’ He pauses for a moment. ’And because he’s massive.’
Team Picamoles haven’t been idle since they all arrived on their big English adventure; the family – he has two boys – have already had a couple of days in a motorhome on the Norfolk Coast in Hunstanton, which is far easier to get to than it is to pronounce; words, understandably, being his big work-on.
‘I think the children are learning much quicker than me but that’s not a surprise. They were in a bi-lingual school in Toulouse so that was a help and now they come home from school here with lots of new words and they try them out on my wife and me. It’s very cute.’
Clearly the easy option would have been to stay put in his comfort zone in the Haute Garonne but Northampton were desperate for a lump in the back row, Les Picamoles were looking for a broader horizon and the match was made, thanks in part to a hail fellow from Leicester well-met in Toulouse.
‘I’m not sure I should tell you what Toby Flood told me about Northampton given he’s from Leicester,’ says Picalomes, mischievously. ‘But no, he says you’ll find a great club, good guys and a real atmosphere; he said it’d be a really good choice.’
He’s already giving plenty to the Northampton cause, not least French lessons for George North, who’s learning a word a day, so if you estimate the average vocabulary to be around twenty thousand words, then George should be fluent sometime on or around 14th October 2059. Indeed, LP is the Big Cheese from France in more ways than one.
‘He missed a meeting a week or two back,’ says Kieran Brookes, ‘I think he read one of the schedules wrong, which is understandable given it was in a foreign language. So as a repayment to the lads he brought a wheel of cheese the size of himself to say sorry for being late. It was just huge, biggest thing I’d ever seen. It went within about an hour.’
This weekend the Frenchman takes on the French as Challenge Cup Champions Montpellier come to Franklin’s ‘Jardins’ – Montpellier, coincidentally, being the club Picamoles first joined as a thirteen year, where he stayed for a decade and who’re now captained by one of his finest friends in all rugby.
‘Yes, Fulgence Ouedroago and I we go back to before the academy days,’ he says, ‘and when you play against a friend it’s important to win, although not as important as sharing a beer afterwards. We‘ve said to him he should come and stay with us for the rest of the weekend but I don’t know if he can. Everyone in rugby these days always seems to be so busy.’
No question, Northampton are as happy to have him as he is delighted to be here; worth his weight in gold, apparently, and given there are 116 kilograms of him, they’re aren’t many anywhere in rugby who’re as valuable as that.
13 OCTOBER 2016