While the Six Nations rivals took a breather with the tournament simmering nicely, former rugby stars had steam rising on and off the snow in the French Alps last week.
Mike Tindall, Simon Shaw, Iain Balshaw, Serge Betsen, Olivier Magne and Dimitri Yachvili were among the players to pull their boots on for the Tournoi des 6 Stations Orangina – a unique rugby tournament played in the snow at temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees Celsius.
Hitoshi Ono, Japan’s record cap-holder, was also one of 30 internationals drawing in healthy crowds of locals and holidaymakers for the sixth edition of an event staged in six idyllic ski resorts over the space of seven days.
Amateurs savoured the chance to play with and against World Cup winners and legends at the picturesque Val Thorens, Les Menuires, Valmorel, La Clusaz, Chatel and Megeve.
Spectators were treated to French flair aplenty and big hits in a sevens competition with a twist under floodlights at the foot of the slopes.
A frozen pitch was no concern as players gasped for air at altitude and ploughed head first into the white stuff on the opening day of the extravaganza in Val Thorens.
— Tournoi des 6 Stations Orangina (@Tournoi6station) February 14, 2018
La Clusaz were crowned champions for the first time in Megeve on Sunday, beating Val Thorens in the final.
But it was not just the rugby which had the pulses racing in an event which supports the Serge Betsen Academy and Rugby French Flair charities.
Big lock Ono, capped 98 times, and his former international team-mate Takuro Miuchi strapped on skis to hit the slopes for the first time in 20 years and served up sake to celebrate still being around to tell the tale later in the week.
Unsurprisingly there were no fellow skiers getting in the way of towering former England and British Lions lock Shaw.
Betsen used to strike fear into opponents during his illustrious career, but claims to take a more conservative approach on a snowboard.
“I was crazy on the field, on the snow you need to pay attention!” said the ex-France powerhouse.
Lee Mears, the ex-England and Lions hooker, said: “My liver takes a battering, but it’s one of the highlights of the year.
“We played against the French for so many years and now we get to know them. They are a great bunch of lads. You discuss the battles you had, the wins and the losses. I owed Dimitri Yachvili a bit from last year, the number nines are always cheeky.”
Debutant Jamie Cudmore, the recently retired Canada lock, said: “This is easily the best thing I’ve been involved in since retiring. It’s a heavy, heavy week with the rugby and a very good time at night.”
Players partook in curling and wood-chopping contests after starting the week with a cooking class at the luxury Koh-I Nor Hotel in Val Thorens.
With some of the of stars of recent years having hit the heights, it will now be over to the current crop to bring the Six Nations to the boil and serve up a treat.
– For more information on the Tournoi des 6 Stations Orangina visit http://tournoides6stations.com/en/
— Tournoi des 6 Stations Orangina (@Tournoi6station) February 13, 2018
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