After a quick bout of wrestling with team-mate Jamie Cudmore, just before he grabs his gear and heads home, Clermont Auvergne legend Aurelien Rougerie wanders up to Rugby World for a brief chat about his career. Not long into the conversation the huge winger stops halfway through an anecdote about his time in the Top 14 and looks around.
“Every year is difficult to make a final and it’s difficult to play every week,” Rougerie says. “You have to work hard and you need a brilliant training centre and a great squad just to make it.”
The club has traditionally had a deep squad, filled with quality locals and Test stars from around the globe, one that has been ravenous for success. But since they have not had a league title since 2010 they have been forced to look for the missing piece. They quickly realised, as players piled into cars to drive away from their match-day home, the Stade Marcel Michelin, that they were doing themselves harm by not training in a multi-purpose, state-of-the-art training centre.
So they did something about it.
Four years ago Clermont embarked upon a project to build a cutting-edge facility within their own stadium. Officials went on fact-finding missions to training centres that belonged to Manchester United, Lille FC, the Brisbane Broncos in Australian rugby league and even their chief sponsor, Under Armour’s impressive training complex. Cherry-picking the bits of tech that best suited their needs and taking away an idea of their ideal layout, they went to work.
It cost up to €6m to build their impressive new facilities – according to one club official, that works out as over €500k a season that could be used to lure “world-class players” to the ambitious club, but a long-term investment that far outweighs the need for a star now. The club worked hard to pull the resources together and over the course of a year the building work was done. In July the ribbon was cut on the centre, which includes a physio room, hot and cold pools, a running track, Olympic lifting platforms and a specially-designed wrestling area. Now, according to some of the players, it’s time the club starting screaming from the rooftops about one of their finest assets.
“Clermont have made some great signings for this season,” full-back Nick Abendanon says. “David Strettle has come in and been awesome and Hosea Gear adds a new attack to our game. But having this facility could give us that extra little bit of edge we need. Last year we were driving 15 minutes to train there (for recovery sessions) or 40 minutes there (for speed drills), and it disrupts everything. This facility doesn’t put pressure on us to say ‘oh, s***, now we’ve got to perform,’ because we do work hard and that’s just part and parcel of playing here. What it does mean is that having it all in one place, with all the amazing technology around, is an awesome thing to have on your doorstep and hopefully it could be the difference.”
It’s here that we return to the tour, with the group huddling round a set-piece, as Wales centre Jonathan Davies is set to “pose” doing a bench press. In modern rugby, pulling exercises tend to take precedence over pushing ones, he claims, but then jokes: “When you’re at the disco in Wales, people ask what you’re benching, butt!”
Which brings us back to something Rougerie explains. The reason he has lasted so long in the game is because he has enjoyed it. And with clubs like Clermont spending less time now smashing each other out in the rain and mud, honing technique and managing game-specific skills indoors instead, they may as well enjoy what they do.
Thanks to Rugby PR, Clermont and Under Armour for the tour of their impressive facility. To read a Pro Insight from the team, telling you how you can train just like Clermont, check out the March issue of Rugby World magazine.