'If you come here with an open heart, they'll embrace you fully'

Kane Palma-Newport left Bath for a move to France

Callum Wood spoke to former Bath man Kane Palma-Newport to discuss his recent move to France in this in-depth, feature interview for TRU.

English players are not a new commodity to French Rugby. Over the years, swathes of players at all stages of their careers have hopped across the channel to ply their trade at clubs the length and breadth of France.

Despite this, there is still somewhat of an ignorance as to how life is on and off the field once a player takes the plunge and leaves these shores to further their rugby experience.

In this series of interviews, we'll be hearing from some of those players, with a focus on the PRO D2, France's second division.

Kane Palma-Newport made the move from Bath to Colomiers this summer, after 11 years and 86 first team appearances for his hometown club.

The tighthead prop, who has recently turned 28, also spent a brief period of the 2011/12 season on loan at Yorkshire Carnegie in the Championship.

Palma-Newport speaks candidly and openly about all things PRO D2, France and comparisons to the Premiership.

Settling in / The Lifestyle

"I’ve settled in really well to be fair. The coaching is great and the people at the club are really good. It’s got a good fan base and it’s next to a big city like Toulouse who have their own fan base, but work quite well alongside.

"It’s a culture that’s very resistant to change. If you came to France with the mindset that ‘I’ve come from the Premiership or down under or whatever league you’ve come from with ideas and you try and implement it here, you’re gonna hit a brick wall.

"It doesn’t matter if you have the science and all the theory behind you, they aren’t that fond of change. So, if you come here with an open heart, so to speak, and accept what they say, they’ll embrace you fully.

"It’s completely different, but that’s just the way they are and that will not change. It’s important that you embrace that because it’s a beautiful lifestyle here. Up until this week, it’s still been in the 20s, with sun, bakeries, beautiful days. You get two hours for lunch, beautiful evenings, the food is stunning.”

How the move came about / final year at Bath

"It was a strange year for tighthead props to be honest. The year before, looseheads were bounding around the Premiership left, right and centre and everyone expected it to be the same for tightheads last year.

"Bath spoke to me quite early and told me they didn’t really have a deal on the table for me, I was quite upset with them at the time because it was November time. I was still on crutches and had been there 11 years without an injury.

"In France, they tend to do their deals a lot later, in England around Xmas time you’re usually done and dusted contract wise.

"In the Premiership, everyone was not really playing their hand, and there was ‘this team are interested, this team are interested’ but it never really happened. I got to about March time and James Phillips, who’s now at Sale said to me: ‘A friend of mine is working for a French team, they’re looking for a tighthead would you be keen it’s in the South of France?’

"I said I’d absolutely be keen and within two weeks it was done and dusted all signed, it was that quick. They were looking for someone and thought I fitted their bill and it was offer on the table and signed.”

Research before moving

"I spoke to Leroy Houston a lot. He’s a good friend of mine and obviously he’d actually been at Colomiers themselves. So, I spoke to him about the town and the city. I spoke to Dave Attwood about what it was like playing this year. (Attwood played on loan at Toulon from Bath in 2017/18)

"He (DA) said to me about the importance of speaking French and embracing everything which is part of the reason I learned French before I left because that’s how they accept you.

“There is a culture of foreigners coming over and not even learning to speak French, and the French do despise that so it was important for me to be seen to be proactive and getting involved which is nice.

“It was also really important to be speaking to someone like Victor Delmas who was obviously at the club last year before joining Bath. He helped me and if I needed anything set up whilst I was in Bath, he could obviously speak the language but also knew who to speak to and when to speak to them, so he was very helpful and I tried to be helpful to him in return in terms of working/living in Bath and finding a flat etc.

The language barrier

"It’s something I’ve noticed dramatically in France. Back home everyone was almost under the same banner and you pulled together. It’s easy as an English-speaking person to be drawn towards other English-speaking people, for me I’m trying to bridge the gap between the foreigners and the French guys.

"It is tough because the French language is a very difficult language to learn, what we learn in school is completely different to the language that they use on the street.

"One of the French guys said to me this week, ‘I really like the English language because it’s quality over quantity.’ Whereas the French language is quantity, quantity, quantity but the quality is lost as they try to say as many words as they can so trying to follow that is incredibly tough!"

Pre-Season / Fitness levels

Kane ruptured his Achilles in the opening round of the Premiership in the 2017/18 season, causing him to miss the rest of the campaign. He moved to Colomiers whilst still recovering and only returned to the pitch in recent weeks.

"I didn’t really get too much of a preseason as I was coming back from the achilles injury so when it was moved away from the fitness side, I was just starting to run. I only started rejoining rugby when they were having their first game so I started dropping mid-late September.

"But what I saw was completely different to home. It was incredibly quick 2-3 weeks. It was basically based on getting fit, like preseason should be. It was 3 weeks of hard graft, bit of rugby, bit of fitness, a bit of running and you’re straight into games.

“In the Premiership I’ve done 3 months pre-seasons before this and it makes you think ‘what on earth are we doing?’

"Maybe it’s different in the TOP14, but fitness levels are different in this league. It wasn’t seen as something you had to be fit for in week 1, it was more a case of we’re gonna get your lungs back and in the next 3-4 weeks you’ll get back to perfect and by week 5, after the first block we’ll be flying.

"And that was the case to be fair. It is a long year. There’s 16 teams in this competition. It’s a lot of games and it is spaced out, you don’t want to burn out before Xmas. It’s important for them that they have a week off every 4 weeks and you just stay fit in that time."

Away wins at a premium in France

It's well known that away wins are somewhat of a rarity in the French leagues, with teams often accused of sending out weakened sides and sacrificing those trips to focus on their home matches.

"It's one of the strange things coming over from England. Last season, Colomiers only won one away game, which was the first of the year against Perpignan who ended up getting promoted. Away wins are incredibly rarer and incredibly important. It's a different mentality, because as an Englishman four points is four points whether home or away."

Factors for home and away games

"I wouldn’t say in training or in preparation is any different, I’d say it’s massive on external factors like the referee and fans. I’ve seen decisions overturned away and at home because into and influence referees and it just swings things.

"Clubs send different teams to home and away which I find strange, but that’s the way they’ve always done it.

"I think it’s more like an expectation, away teams seem to be happy if you keep it within 5 for a losing bonus and that’s a good week. It’s almost like we let you win your home games, you let us win our home games and we all shake hands.

"It’s as if we go there and win well, it’s the best feeling in the world and as if we’ve won the World Cup. If we lose, ‘well cool we were away so it doesn’t matter.’

"It’s never a case of well we’re sending the kids to an away game to get mauled.’ I’d say for the foreigners a game is a game. In the French mindset, perhaps. it's the way they’re bought up that this is how it is."

Officiating compared to the Premiership

"I truly believe that in the Premiership we’ve got the best referees in the world. There’s open communication with the RPA and with Premiership Rugby about what’s going to be officiated and how the referees are being trained.

"If you really want to you, can look and see how the referees were reviewed themselves the previous weekend, what they did well/badly and what they’ve been working on. You actually get to know them and where their strengths and weaknesses lie.

"Whereas here, (and it could be a language barrier for myself), but it’s definitely less professional and external pressures affect their decision making which in sport is huge.

"The referee is obviously one factor you can’t control and if they’re making decisions based on the crowd, especially when you’re away then you’re always going to be up against it. I’ve not necessarily seen referees crumble, but I’ve definitely seen decisions swing in the last 8 weeks.

“In games of rugby where one score is deciding between winning and losing, it’s massive."

Difference in styles of play

"There is a big difference, it is a lot simpler. I’d say having played Premiership and Championship in the UK, PRO D2 is in the middle of the two. It’s not as quick as the Premiership but it’s a lot more skillful and physical than the Championship.

"There’s a lot less focus on analysis than the Premiership. With the Premiership we’re possibly slightly overboard, you’re reviewing everything and discussing everything we’ve ever done and could ever do.

"Where here it’s a bit more these are the trends, these are the type of things they (opposition) like to do, this is how we’re gonna defend it. ‘Everyone ok with that? Brilliant.’

"Also because in France if you score 3 tries more than your opposition you get the bonus point you're encouraged to play more.

"In the Prem (or in England) if you get 4 tries you know you’ve got the bonus point secured and you relax and you see other teams coming back into the game. It’s important here you keep playing, and also you only get a losing bonus point for being within 5 so teams are fighting incredibly hard.

"It’s all down to you, so you don’t worry about the other team too much which is actually quite nice and is what rugby and sport should be about. It should be about what you’ve done in the week, backing what you’ve done and just going out there and playing."

Coaching Levels and Styles

In this country, there is a preconception of French coaching that most of the positions are filled by 'Cowboys' or those who aren't actually fit for that job, but have their role due to favour.

"I think they’re quite big on French coaches, and from what I’ve heard on this side of the water, there might be a lot of Cowboys as you say. As in there are a lot of people who have a job who’ve been there forever.

"I think with the ways the Unions are and the way they’re set up it’s very hard to get rid of people.

"The coaching at Colomiers is very good and it’s done professionally which is important as the game has moved on so much in the last 5-6 years so you do have to be up to date. We’ve got a good balance. With the forwards we’ve got a coach that understands that sometimes you’ve got to knock the door down and be a battering ram, but also likes to out think opposition.

"We also try and move the ball around, pass it a little bit and use special plays, but they understand that you can’t do that always, sometimes you do have to stick it up the jumper and just work hard so we’ve got a good balance between that.”

Future Plans

Kane's signed a deal with Colomiers which runs for two years and will see him through to the end of the 2019/20 season, a few months shy of him turning 30.

"The thing for me was I didn’t want to sign a one-year deal, because I’m moving to a different country and I wanted to learn the language. I wanted to actually settle down and enjoy it.

"I felt like I stayed there (Bath/Prem) probably a bit too long in hindsight. It was about immersing myself in something completely different and a challenge that meant I was going to different cities and different grounds, playing new faces and meeting new people.

"Whereas I felt like if I stayed in the Premiership, I’d have been going along the same routes and same competitions and not really experiencing anything different, just playing in a different coloured shirt.

"Playing the two years and seeing what happened was the plan and to be honest since I’ve moved here, I really don’t think I could see myself going back to play in the Premiership to be honest.

“I’m just loving the lifestyle, it’s a lot more chilled, you get a week off every four weeks. As you’ve probably seen with the new Premiership announcement, you get a guaranteed two weeks off in the season, I’ve already had that by November.

"I'm turning 28, obviously I had a year out last season, so for your body and longevity actually playing at this intensity having time off is so important. So, it’s something I can see myself enjoying.

"Of course, if these two years go really well and I progress really well and someone offers me an amazing gig in England then it’s something you couldn’t turn down.

“But if you’re talking about comparative money or being in a relegation battle in the Premiership, to be honest I don’t see why you’d move back. The lifestyle you have here compared to battling out for 40-oddd weeks in 3 different competitions. the numbers don’t add up to me."