The growing Munster contingent in Pau is settling into life in the top flight in France and showed at the weekend they have what it takes to cut it amongst the best in the richest rugby league in the world.
Pau, promoted last season with former Munster backs coach Simon Mannix at the helm, made it two homes wins from two when they edged out Toulouse 9-6.
And with James Coughlan, who was one of their key players when they ran away with the Pro D2 title last year, being joined this season by two more ex-Munster players in Paddy Butler and Sean Dougall, the Irish influence continues to grow. Add in video performance analysts Elliot Corcoran and Paddy O’Sullivan, and the Munster influence is even greater.
The club have shown ambition and drafted in All Blacks Conrad Smith and Colin Slade, Scotland prop Euan Murray and French international Julien Pierre from Clermont Auvergne as they try to hold their own in the multi-million euro league. Pau have a budget of around €17m this season but at least nine clubs have more than that.
Coughlan, who was released a year early from his Munster contract to pursue his French dream after Mannix took charge, said the primary aim was to win their home matches and try pick up as many points on the road.
“Last year was mission accomplished to one extent, the primary ambition was to get to the Top 14. The club is very ambitious, you can see that in the signings.
“But winning Pro D2 and getting promotion is in the past and the task now is to get established in the Top 14 and make our mark. We know how important it is to start well.”
They lost 34-18 away to champions Stade Francais on the opening day but turned over Jake White’s Montpellier 26-16 in their first home match.
The battle of the two Irish clubs in the Top 14 went the way of Bernard Jackman and Mike Prendergast’s Grenoble 41-15, but Pau recovered at the weekend to topple Toulouse.
Coughlan and Dougall started and Butler came off the bench in the triumph.
“The two boys coming over has made it our own little Munster contingent, with Elliot and Paddy in the backroom staff. It’s brilliant, the lads bring that work ethic which is ingrained in us in Munster,” added Coughlan.
He has settled in well and has worked hard on learning the language. “I’m not fluent but I’m getting there. I can pretty much understand everything now.
“It wasn’t just for rugby that we came here. It’s about a lifestyle change as well for us and the children so it is important to immerse yourself in a different way of life.”
The Top 14 has taken a break for the World Cup after four rounds and Pau will resume in mid-October against leaders Clermont Auvergne.
“If you told me 10 years ago I’d end up playing Top 14 when we were knocking lumps out of Shannon and getting kicked out of it by Young Munster, I would have laughed at you,” said Coughlan.
“But it is great the ways things have worked out and I will always be grateful to Munster for releasing me early.”
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