By Gavin Mortimer
HE’S GOT the Vespa, he’s learning French and Aled Brew has even been bodyboarding in the famous Biarritz surf. Yes, the former Dragons’ wing is enjoying his new life in the Basque Country – both on and off the pitch.
When Rugby World caught up with the 26-year-old, he’d just played a blinder in Biarritz’s 22-17 defeat of Top 14 champions Toulouse. The victory leaves Biarritz top of the pile in the French league, unbeaten in three matches and ahead on points difference of Toulon, the only other club with a 100 per cent record thus far. Not a bad start considering Biarritz’s talismanic No8 Imanol Harinordoquy is still recovering from a long-term injury.
Brew was instrumental in last weekend’s win, creating Biarritz’s only try of the match with an explosive burst that split open the Toulouse defence before sending Damien Traille over the tryline with an impeccably-timed pass. Brew’s form hasn’t gone unnoticed by Midi Olympique, France’s rugby bible, with the newspaper lauding the Welshman as the “decisive” factor against Toulouse and an “invaluable recruit” to the club’s ranks. “I’m very pleased with how things are going,” admitted Brew. “The way Biarritz are playing is how I enjoy playing. They like to move the ball about and it’s been easy to integrate. And the atmosphere at games is incredible, the crowd generate so much noise that it’s a big lift for the players. There are things to work on [in my game] but I’m having a great time.”
Brew is also putting in the effort away from the training ground. He has three French lessons a week – a total of 4 1/2 hours in total – and he and his young family (his fiancée and two young children) are determined to immerse themselves in all aspects of French life. “Before signing for Biarritz I discussed the move in depth with my fiancée,” explains Brew, who’s had spells with the Ospreys and Blues, as well as the Dragons. “We both wanted to sample a new culture and I wanted to improve my rugby by playing in France. My son has just turned six so it was the right time for him; any later and it would have been hard for him to move schools.”
Brew isn’t the only Welshman at Biarritz, there’s also prop Ben Broster, and with the likes of Iain Balshaw, Magnus Lund and American flier Takudzwa Ngwenya in the squad the dressing room has its share of English speakers. Across the Top 14 as a whole Brew is one of an increasing number of Welshmen earning his crust in France. He caught up with Jamie Robinson after Biarritz had beaten Agen last month and at the end of September Brew will came face to face with Mike Phillips of Bayonne in what should be a fiery Basque derby.
The fact the Top 14 contains so many Welsh players gives Brew hope that he’s still very much in the thoughts of the national selectors. “I definitely want to win more caps,” he says emphatically. “Obviously the first thing I have to do is play well for Biarritz but with there being so many Welsh players in France I think I’m still on the radar. Hopefully if they do watch me more opportunities to play for Wales will come my way.”
The Heineken Cup will give Brew a good opportunity to show the selectors how his game’s improved in France. The Dragons have never been one of Europe’s powerhouses but Biarritz have pedigree in the competition, twice reaching the final and finding themselves this year in a pool featuring Harlequins, Connacht and Zebre of Italy. Brew acknowledges the draw could have been a lot worse. “It’s pretty good for us. We haven’t really discussed the Cup yet but I imagine we’ll expect to do fairly well in our group.”
Between now and the start of the Heineken Cup Brew is focusing solely on the Top 14, with perhaps a little bit of bodyboarding thrown in if he’s not learning French or taking his Vespa for a spin. “I want to surf eventually,” he says, laughing, “but I’ve got to ease myself into it. One or two of the boys have said they’ll give me lessons.”
So far Brew has proved a quicker learner in his new environment so what odds he’ll be ‘hanging ten’ by Christmas?