Our Top 14 expert du-jour, James Harrington‘ s better half , Scheenagh Harrington is back. She has a guest piece for us today on the history of the Bouclier de Brennus the Top 14 Championship Trophy
CASTRES, FRANCE – You have to wonder how many in-their-blood-and-bones sports fans get the chance to lay a finger on the things their teams fight so hard for. I’m not talking money, money, money, or places in tables or even that crazy little thing called fame.
No, I’m thinking of the silverware. Millions of football fans watch the World Cup, but it would be fascinating to find out how many of them have actually been in the presence of that ugly lumpen thing.
No one in their right mind could call the rugby equivalent ugly or lumpen. The Webb Ellis Trophy is, all bias aside, a thing of beauty. I should know – I got to see it all-too briefly when it visited my old home town in England.
That was my first and, until last year, my last encounter with a rugby trophy. Then, against all odds, pokey little Castres romped to victory in the Top 14 finals last year and brought home the Bouclier de Brennus.
I remember gasping as Rodrigo Capo Ortega and Romain Teulet hoisted it above their heads, delighting the thousands of us who had crammed into Stade Pierre Antoine on a sunny evening, eager to catch a glimpse of our heroes – and the Brennus.
Sitting here, almost a year later, I’m barely able to hold back a shiver of excitement, knowing Castres are once again in the play-off semi finals with a more-than decent chance of making it to the final. A few weeks ago, the local paper ran a story about the townsfolk saying goodbye to the Brennus. Could we, sooner rather than later, be welcoming it back with open arms?
We have already been introduced, the Brennus and I (we had a few photos taken at Stade Pierre Antoine and our children relished spending the day with it when the trophy ‘visited’ their school), but I only recently realised I didn’t actually know anything about it.
It turns out the Brennus has quite an interesting story: let the history lesson begin!
Way back in the 1890s, aristocratic educator and historian Pierre de Coubertin was a busy man. He’d already founded the modern Olympic Games (well done, that man), and came up with the following sporting theory: “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
As if all that wasn’t achievement enough, he then teamed up with Charles Brennus, who had helped de Coubertin found the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques (USFSA), better known as the first governing body for French rugby.
Still with me? Good.
Coubertin realised the players scurrying about France’s pitches in the 1892 season needed something to play for, and gave his friend Brennus – who just happened to be a nifty sculptor – a mouthwatering commission. Before you could sing the opening verse of the Marseillaise, he created the beautiful and iconic Bouclier de Brennus; an engraved brass shield and plaque, fixed to an ash wood board.
For more than 100 years it was awarded to the top league-winning clubs up and down France, (though ironically, Parisian club SCUF, whose president was Brennus and who provides the trophy’s spiritual home, has never won it) and over time, got into a dreadful state.
What would you expect after a century of love and abuse at the hands of hairy-arsed rugby men? Really. Never trust a rugby player to behave – look what Dean Richards and John Jeffrey did to the Calcutta Cup. Can you imagine the ladies’ Wimbledon champion using the Venus Rosewater Dish as a skateboard? It happened to the Brennus. All this ‘attention’ had taken its toll.
In 2003, it was decided the original should enjoy an extended period of retirement and successful clubs would be given a replica in its place – apart from in 2004, when the original was wheeled out after it was discovered one of Perpignan’s titles was missing from the list.
So, in fact I never got to touch the Brennus – the real one, anyway. But d’you know what? It doesn’t matter.
The cool, elegant trophy I briefly allowed my fingers to glide over, that my younger son insisted was his (bless him), that my husband quietly beamed with pride over as he took his place beside it for a quick snapshot, that Brennus will always be ours.
Here’s hoping we meet again in a few weeks’ time…
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@ :RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.