Rugby Union: `Pandemonium. They were like animals'

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A brawl in a French town has left the rugby world shocked by the actions of the players involved. Adam Szreter visits the bar in Brive where sporting passions erupted into violence

Marty Bruno, the joint owner of the Bar Le Toulzac in Brive town centre, was surveying the damage the morning after the night before. Broken chairs and broken glass still littered the floor, and as we walked through towards a table at the back of the room Bruno pointed towards a spot on the wall where blood stains were clearly visible.

Bruno, a former Brive player, opened the bar less than six months ago, and it is there that the town's rugby players now go for a drink after a match. Bruno may be an unfortunate name given the nature of the proceedings, but he insisted that he, for one, was not throwing any punches.

"I was behind the bar protecting my head so I didn't see everything," he said, "but they were throwing chairs and tables. The police arrived but they couldn't do anything.

"One of the Welsh players tried to intervene, but if two or three of the Brive players hadn't stepped in to protect the injured ones, someone could have got killed.

"I've never seen anything like it, except on television and at the cinema." Outside, the fighting had spilled over on to the small terrace and there was a long trail of blood.

Lionel Mallier, sent off along with Pontypridd's Dale McIntosh during Sunday's ill-tempered European Cup match, admitted he was fighting again with McIntosh in the bar. "When they first arrived I sensed trouble but Phil John [a Ponty player] bought me a drink and for 10 minutes it was OK. But then there was a flare-up between McIntosh and [Philippe] Carbonneau and all hell broke loose. It was pandemonium. They were like animals."

Brive, a sleepy town of 50,000 people, 150 miles north-east of Toulouse, is famous only by association with the French president Jacques Chirac, who was born 20 miles away, and now for its rugby.

A local taxi driver explained that he had heard of the trouble and was not surprised the police had been unable to deal with it. "We have very little crime in Brive and consequently there are very few policemen. They will have had no experience of this kind of thing."

Covert proceedings were taking place at the local gendarmerie all day. Having made no arrests the previous evening, they started off yesterday with a dawn raid on the Pontypridd team's hotel, taking five players away for questioning.

Information was sketchy, and the police were reluctant to talk to any foreign media. Eventually, when the players came out of the police station to be taken to the local prosecuting magistrate, it was through a rear exit to avoid the fearsome sight of six journalists and two photographers.

Just around the corner from the Bar Le Toulzac itself, in the Rue de Paris, the Heineken Cup sits proudly in the window of the club shop. Whether Brive will win it again this year is hard to say. For now, they will just be hoping they are allowed to play on and defend it with some honour.