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Jamie Noon interview: 'Moving to Brive has been brilliant - I want to stay after retiring'

25 April 2010


Jamie Noon: Committed to both
club and the French lifestyle
Photo: Michael Paler

The lack of tears that accompanied Riki Flutey?s decision to end his Brive encounter this week was in stark contrast to the high esteem in which fellow England colleague Jamie Noon is held at the French club. Indeed, while Flutey was busying his hasty escape plan Noon was putting the finishing touches to a two-year extension on his current contract with the Limousin club.

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Both England centres arrived last summer amid much optimism that Brive could continue their ascent of Top 14, but less than 12 months later and their varying fortunes perfectly encapsulate the ?foreigners? conundrum that is currently running through French rugby.

Club owners and fans alike rightly want to field the strongest possible side they can muster ? hence the high number of overseas imports ? but not at any price. Integration, both on and off the field, is a prerequisite to success and acceptance, and lack of it, by contrast, will mark you out. And it?s a two-way street. As long as you are prepared to learn the language ? or at least make an attempt at it ? then your eyes (and taste buds) will be open to a wondrous new culture that hums with warm-heartedness and generosity.

Flutey may have outscored Noon in the natural talent stakes but the latter?s commitment to the cause has won admirers in Brive and beyond, whereas Flutey?s indifference (perceived or not) meant his departure will not be mourned.

Playing rugby in France can be financially lucrative, but the riches don?t come served up on a platter. You have to work at it, for it is a job after all.

Noon and his family have bought fully into the French experience and the fact the player missed just one league match this season ? when he was rested ? underlines the high esteem in which he is held ? and hence the two-year contract extension. He has put his body and soul on the line throughout a trying campaign ? contributing six tries along the way - but is now reaping the dividends. The language is coming along, the whole French lifestyle has been embraced and such is love of his new surrounds there is now talk of staying in France beyond his playing career.

The 38-times capped international has become integral to Brive?s future at a time when the club is, by its own admission, seeking to reverse its previous trend for buying from abroad. Flutey?s departure followed that of Andy Goode, and will soon be succeeded by Christian Short?s, but ironically it was Flutey?s arrival that proved the pulling point for Noon?s initial decision to join.

Noon?s near ever-presence in the Brive starting XV is both testament to his own renowned durability, and also the value his new club has already placed on his willing shoulders. He is typically modest about his achievements ? ?I?ve been lucky? ? but also appreciates that it?s helped him settle into the squad.

?There?s been a couple of games where I?ve come away with a niggle but been okay for the following week, and we?ve been struggling a little bit with centres. Riki has obviously been injured a lot of the season, Ronnie Cooke?s been injured and Lachlan MacKay has done his shoulder as well, so it?s kind of been good for me and I think good for the club as well to be able to play week-in week-out because I think we really could have struggled had we had any more injuries.?

Rugged dependability has always been key to Noon?s rugby success and the former Newcastle Falcon set a previous Guinness Premiership record when he started a 50th successive league match back in 2003.

?That was a long time ago and it?s since been surpassed, but I was pleased with that. That was three years that was. What was interesting was that in those three years I had the premiership record but I played in all the other games as well, so it wasn?t like it was just in the Premiership.

"One season I played every game in the whole season ? I wasn?t off in the blood bin or the sin-bin, so I literally played every minute and I?m quite proud of that. But sometimes your body needs a rest, especially I think as you get older it?s important that you do have the downtime as well. During the week before a game you need to just take your foot off the pedal a little bit just to recover for the upcoming game. I think that?s what?s nice about the league here, is that you have those breaks throughout. The Christmas break was a week or so and then you have a couple of weeks in February, and it?s been nice to be able to do that, it?s helped me get through the games.?

Bitterly disappointed

The rugby itself hasn?t gone strictly to plan, partly due to a shocking first half of the season that saw Brive flirting with the relegation zone when most expected them to be challenging in the top six.

?We were obviously bitterly disappointed with the way the season started, we were missing some good opportunities to get some good points under our belt as it were, and then we had to do a lot of work at the back end. I think hopefully we?ve learnt a lot of lessons from that and we?re a better side as a result. Some of the guys have really come through and played some good stuff this year. Obviously Alix (Palisson) going and playing for France, and winning the Grand Slam as well, he?s deserved that because he?s been great for us, and we?ve had some good performances from a number of other guys. It?s been a bit difficult at times, but I think that?s the same everywhere rugby-wise. We?ve had some great wins against some of the big sides, and some important wins away from home when we?ve needed it.?

Sampling the differing atmospheres in France?s more boisterous grounds has also been a learning curve.

?I like it. I think it?s great and I quite like the fact that when you play at different grounds they approach the whole thing differently. In terms of their singing and chanting they?re obviously a lot noisier. I like the fact that all the grounds have got their own reputation, I quite like that element of it. I suppose like The Shed at Gloucester, that had an element of reputation about it and I used to like playing there. It was something to look forward to and not just the rugby. It was something to take in, in terms of an experience.

?Especially coming from Newcastle where rugby has not been high on the priorities I suppose with the Geordies, because with the football we were always taking a back seat. But coming to Brive I?ve seen the other side to it with the passion. Every man, his wife and the dog is a big follower of rugby and it?s been really nice. When I?m dropping the children off they stop me and ask me how I?m feeling or who we?ve got, or ?well played? or ?unlucky last week?, and I love that aspect of it. It?s really nice that they pay attention to it and that your work is rewarded in some sense. It?s great because the whole town and the region gets behind their rugby team,? says Noon.

He appreciates that learning the lingo is also a crucial step towards integration. ?I think my French is still a working in progress, inevitably really because it?s only been seven or eight months, but it?s improved massively from when I first arrived. I could speak a little but because I had been listening to some CDs before I arrived ? the obligatory Michel Thomas ? and I could say bits and pieces, but I wasn?t that confident with it all. But now I feel I?ve improved loads. It?s just one of those things, you?ve got keep working at it,? he admits.

All team plays are in French, as is training of course, but Noon has been thankful for the odd English speaker alongside him in the centres at times. ?It?s quite nice to just to talk and discuss things if certain aspects are not going well or we need to change certain things. It?s quite nice to just talk [English] to someone about it. You could do it with French but it just takes time for me to get things across, and obviously if you?re lining up for a scrum or a lineout you don?t necessarily have time, but generally it?s not been too bad in games.?

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Noon?s qualities have not gone unnoticed by the French media, but his move across ?Le Channel? may have cost him further England recognition despite being called up as a squad replacement when Dan Hipkiss was injured during the Six Nations. It proved a bitter-sweet experience.

?I?ve always been proud of what I?ve achieved in rugby and obviously being involved with England was really special to me. I thought maybe coming over here was a bit of a gamble because obviously it?s a long way away and the selectors are not able to get to as many games. Also in terms of rivalries for England, because it?s easier to stake your claim when you?re playing against the players you?re fighting positions for. But I suppose it?s one of those things. I came over here and I?ve enjoyed my rugby, I?ve been going okay I think ? it?s just that unfortunately I?ve missed the boat this time around.

It?s been a bit tough watching the boys but I think it was probably a bit harder going over and training with them. Being over here there?s no press about the England team and I suppose it was ?what you don?t see doesn?t really matter?, but when I was over there it was tough. I trained well, I worked hard and I felt at the time that I not so much deserved a place but felt that ?Yes, I could play against them?. But it wasn?t to be and it was just one of those things. Hopefully in the next couple of years I?ll get back there.


Non-partnership: Flutey and
Noon rarely played together
Photo: Michael Paler

?I wanted to come to France but one of the reasons why I thought Brive was a good move for me was I felt that I would be playing week-in week-out with Riki. He was obviously the first-choice 12 and that would give me of an opportunity to show what I could do. Because they would be watching Riki then I hope they?d see what I?m doing as well alongside him. And obviously with Andy Goode as well and with 'Thommo' I felt there was a strong enough reason for them to be watching the Brive matches if they had four possible guys playing for England, so I assumed that they would be watching and I would get a fair crack at it, but I?ve just not got the chance that I would have liked this time around,? he adds.

His omission clearly hurt but the decision to move has paid off in other ways for the father of three, and the family?s willingness to embrace the entire experience has proved crucial to their success in bedding down.

?To be honest before I arrived I didn?t really know what to expect. I knew the weather would be better and I knew that side of things would be different, but I didn?t know what to expect from the rugby. Newcastle had played Brive four or five times in the last couple of years so I?d played against French sides regularly, but you didn?t know which side was going to turn up. Often we played well at home and won some games and then we played away and it was a completely different kettle of fish in France. But I?ve really enjoyed it. My wife as well - I?m not just speaking for myself. I?m really glad I?ve done an amazing move and change, for everything ? the children, the lifestyle and for the experiences that we?re having. It?s brilliant for us at the moment and at this time in our lives it?s been perfect for us,? he enthused.

Two of his three children are already immersed in French schools with the youngest set to start pre-school in September. Hearing them speak French has been one of the highlights for Noon since the move. ?It?s something that makes me really proud because it?s one of the reasons we came,? he adds.

And by signing for a two more years (taking him to 2013) Noon is hoping the entire family will be fluent French speakers by then. In the meantime he?s busying himself with taking in as much as he can from his new environment, including a recent fly-fishing trip to the Dordogne with a French team-mate. ?I really enjoyed it,? says Noon. ?The weather was nice and the setting was beautiful, really picturesque.?

It was another snapshot of a previously un-sampled lifestyle, and all adds to the ?Frenchifying? of Noon, along with coffee, a new-found taste for wines and even sampling snails ? ?just garlic, real strong garlic? he explained.

His rugby-loving neighbours continually pop round with local delights for them to try and Noon has also been taking the family off around the region at any given opportunity.

Lifestyle

?What we found is one of the big things is the security for the children. The way life is so chilled out and so relaxed, I feel so relaxed with the children,? he says. ?Families are a big thing and everybody seems to look out for each other. I suppose it might just be because Brive is very quiet but in Newcastle there was lots of bits and pieces going on.?

So no regrets about moving then?

?Definitely not. We?ve talked at length about a lot of things with this opportunity to re-sign. Both of us were like ?yeah, let?s do it? straightaway because we?ve really enjoyed it so far and hopefully it will get better and better. Hopefully as we get better with the language then that is going to help. We?ve even talked about maybe staying on after depending on if I can get a job after to continue with the adventure with - the French lifestyle - because we?ve thoroughly enjoyed it.?

* Parts of this article were published in The Rugby Paper on 25th April 2010

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