There is a pause of almost five seconds before Drew Mitchell lets out a groan of frustration and throws in the towel.
“No,” he admits after being asked if he could buy Speedos in French. “To be honest I’d just have to get by with body language for that one. My vocabulary consists of about 30 words at the moment so you were never going to have much luck.”
Learning French has been a fairly slow process for the 63-Test Wallaby wing, and – while a first season in sunny Toulon has provided plenty of opportunity to don his ‘budgie-smugglers’ – he doesn’t know how the noun translates. Sourcing a new pair from any local store would require some well-judged gesturing.
Swimwear is a recurring theme on Mitchell’s sparkling Twitter feed. Him and neighbour Matt Giteau take an afternoon dip in the Mediterranean most days, just one perk of playing at the continent’s richest club. As the Australian pair look to defend the Heineken Cup in tomorrow’s colossal final against Saracens in Cardiff, this ritual hasn’t changed.
Indeed, one advantage of being in such a vastly experienced squad – Toulon’s match-day 23 for their Top 14 semi win over Racing Metro featured a staggering 879 caps – is the collective comfort with high-stakes occasions, what Mitchell calls “finals footy”. The prospect of a historic domestic-European double does not stifle routine.
“Training is intense and everyone is completely sure of their roles, although we’re pretty relaxed,” he says. “Yesterday we finished up and had a bit of a barbeque.
“We wouldn’t have any formality about our week just because it’s the final of a competition. To change things for the final would be very immature in a professional sense and we have too many guys who have been there before.
“It felt a bit like joining a Barbarians side initially, especially with the prospect of playing alongside Bryan Habana, Juan Smith, Danie Roussow – guys I’ve played against throughout my career. Everyone is so inclusive, though. In France you always say hello to everyone when you arrive somewhere. They’re into kissing but a handshake will usually do.
“There’s a real drive within the group and among coaching staff to go back-to-back this weekend. Because of the language barrier I can’t get too deep in conversation with many locals. I can pick up that they’re very much behind us and this means a hell of a lot to them. For us, there’s a real sense of desire to do a job, both from within and for our supporters.”
From the outside, life at Toulon seems like one big, blossoming bromance between some of world rugby’s most recognisable names. Mitchell doesn’t dispel that notion and charmingly explains how he and Giteau have become the resident hairdressers to a lot of teammates (but not Jonny Wilkinson, yet).
“It’s got to the point where we’ve stopped bringing the clippers on away trips,” he laughs. “That way we don’t have four or five guys queuing outside our room at night. I reckon we’re doing about 10 or 12 guys in the team at the moment.
“We’ve not broached the idea to Jonny yet…we might ask him if we can do it before his last game. I think his wife cuts his hair at the moment so I’m not sure if we’d really to tread on her toes until then.”
In this digital age, fans can easily follow this envy-inducing camaraderie – Bakkies Botha teasing Wilkinson about inferior burger-flipping skills, for instance. Photos of Mitchell’s recent 30th birthday celebrations looked like a comprehensive who’s who of the international game. His backline buddy Habana is a master of post-match selfies that cram in a heap of grinning superstars. It’s fair to say the Toulon boys love social media and it loves them back. For Mitchell – arguably the most honest and entertaining of them all – this is very important.
“It’s an opportunity to show ourselves as people away from rugby. When I was growing up, all I would ever see of the people I looked up to were short clips on the news. You couldn’t get to know their personalities.
“Now you have a completely different point of view opened to you. That’s something that I still do – I follow NBA players and musicians just to see what they’re like as people and what they get up to in their spare time.
“I guess what I try to do with social media is make it reflect me as a person. I don’t take myself too seriously and hopefully that comes across. I have a strong point of view on some things, but I’m the first to take the piss out of myself or my team-mates too.”
These words are conscientious and refreshingly human, which actually comes as little surprise. Although Mitchell smiles at the suggestion, he is something of an internet entrepreneur having co-founded an online social network with his agent Mat Cole. Called Sporple, the site allows athletes, clubs and agents to create profiles with the aim of linking talent with an outlet.
“More than anything, it’s great for young athletes who may not have had a platform to showcase their skills in front of the right people. Certainly in Australia it can be about what school you go to and it’s harder for those in rural situations or people at less renowned schools to get picked up.”
Mitchell is passionate about this business pursuit, but is equally determined to keep his rugby first for now. Remember, this is a man who recovered from a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle in five months to appear at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, then scoring three tries during the tournament.
Despite easy-going surroundings, Mitchell has retained the same tenacity, which subtly laces his grudging praise of Saracens’ 46-6 success over Clermont in their Heineken Cup semi this month.
“It was a seriously aggressive performance from Saracens, not only in getting themselves in a position to win it, but also in how clinical they were right until the end.
“On the other side of that, it was a surprise that Clermont didn’t fight back. It’s one thing to see Clermont get beaten, it’s a completely different thing for it to happen in that fashion – for such a quality side to basically implode.”
Clearly, Mitchell and Toulon will not roll over for Paul Gustard’s wolf pack.