Lyon lock Christian Short returns to his native Newcastle on Saturday to take on the Falcons in European action, fresh from the mumps epidemic which has rocked French rugby. Mark Smith reports
IT takes a certain type of person to leave the North East and make it big in France.
Former Newcastle United and England footballer Chris Waddle did it, playing over a century of games for Marseille where he is still revered as a folk hero, and Lyon’s Christian Short is making a fair old fist of his Gallic stint after crossing the channel four seasons ago. The experience certainly appears to be leaving its mark on him.
“Oui, bonjour,” is how he answers his telephone, explaining that he is in the middle of his lunch and will have time to chat afterwards.
Lunch is big in France and, so it would seem, is Short. Six foot and seven inches to be exact, with the flame-haired line-out target winding his way to the country’s second city after two seasons at Top 14 rivals Brive.
It is all a long way from Newlands Preparatory School in Gosforth, where the lock-forward spent his early years before moving on to Hexham’s Queen Elizabeth High School. Four of his five sisters remain in the region, while dad John – the Gosforth RFC past president – is now back in his Slaley home after a trip to see his offspring earlier this week.
“Hopefully I will have a bit of a support crew at Kingston Park on Saturday,” jokes Christian ahead of the opening match of the Amlin Challenge Cup – European rugby’s second-tier event behind the Heineken Cup.
The fact that the game is even taking place is something of a revelation given the turmoil at Lyon. So deep is Short’s assimilation that he says the word in French before having to search for the English equivalent.
Finally settling on “nightmare”, he goes on to explain how deeply the outbreak of mumps at the club has affected their programme.
Following their 15-all draw at Biarritz three weeks ago, their subsequent matches against Montpellier and Begles-Bordeaux were both postponed.
“As a result of us having played Biarritz they also called off last weekend’s match between Biarritz and Bayonne, which was the 100th anniversary of what is a massive derby game in the Basque region. As you can imagine, we were not exactly flavour of the month down there, but it was a decision taken by the league.
“There were something like 12 of our guys who were deemed to be at risk, and the ones who had not been vaccinated against mumps or had not had the virus previously were put into quarantine and kept away from the rest of us.
“They trained in pairs from 8am until 6pm, but I had mumps when I was little so I was able to train with the group of 30 who were not said to be at risk. In the end, seven of the 12 went down with it, and two of those were very sick indeed.