Back in high school, Cam Pierce didn’t pay much attention in French classes. Turns out he should have put more effort into learning the language.
Pierce, 21, is immersed in the French culture as he plays rugby and goes to school as part of an apprenticeship with the ASM Clermont Auvergne Academy, in Clermont-Ferrand, one of the country’s oldest cities (population 150,000).
The 6-foot-6, 230-pound second row player was recruited after playing internationally for Team Canada Under 20. He was a touch homesick in the fall, but has adjusted to the huge changes.
“As I have progressed with the language and become more comfy around the guys it has been a lot more enjoyable,” said Pierce, home in Vernon for Christmas. “My one complaint about France is all the dog poo in the streets; I feel like my street is the hot spot.”
He says rugby is the No. 1 sport in Clermont-Ferrand so it commands major exposure.
“The atmosphere around the entire club is amazing. Usually when I go out wearing ASM clothing, people will ask me if I play and how the game was on the weekend. For our home games (U23) there are around 2,000 fans, whereas the pros get 18-20,000.
“They all come on the field after the home games for autographs and photos so it’s pretty exciting. Each week, two or three of the top 14 players who are Under 23, play with us depending on what is happening with the top team.”
The Kal and University of Victoria grad has played in 80 per cent of the U23 Espoirs games and one for the U21 Reichels. The Espoirs have won three straight national titles.
“Any time I get selected for the U23s, it is a special feeling because of the hype and energy surrounding the team. Most of the finer points in my game have been getting better, such as body positioning in scrums, and precision off of kick-offs. All of the coaches and staff surrounding the club are very good. A Brit, ex-London Wasp player, Alex King, is the Espoirs’ backs coach and he has been a huge help with getting me transitioned into the French lifestyle and game play.”
Like most of the players in the academy, Pierce is enrolled at the university, where he takes a French course four days a week. Each week, the team lifts weights four times, trains three times and does a captain’s run the day before a game.
“My role on the team, like most second rows (lock) is to be very physical around the field and dominant in the set pieces (scrums, lineouts). French rugby is very physical, hard hitting and there are scraps almost every game.”
As for pretty much ignoring his high school French teachers, Pierce said: “I was always one of the worst students in French class. I didn’t see a point in it and was super lazy. Me and my buddies used to mess around all the time, never thought I would actually need it. It has been a lot easier and more fun learning in real life situations instead of a classroom. The food is amazing, but everything is so expensive, I really miss Timmys, Wendy’s, and Pho (Vietnamese). Their fashion sense is pretty deadly; the older girls look younger and vice versa.”
Pirece has all his living expenses and a lot of extras covered, along with flights home twice a year.
“I would like to stay with the academy for two years after this year, working towards a top-14 contract. As a foreigner, if you play three years in the academy you aren’t considered a foreigner so there is no restrictions on allowing you to play. There can only be three foreigners on the field at one time. My ultimate goal is to represent Team Canada at the senior men’s level. I have always been a very proud Canadian and being in France has only helped me appreciate it more.”
Pierce, who played summer rugby with the Kelowna Crows, reunited with buddie and former Crow and provincial youth team teammate Will Hindson of Kelowna recently.
“He was just in Bayonne for a test with the U23 team. He told me he was at a test a few days before. We took a bus trip down there and gave them a proper smashing, 42-15 I think. ASM is looking at a young Canadian, 1993 Ontario player Conor McCann, for the academy in the new year so hopefully it works out for him. The more Canadians the better.”
Clermont-Ferrand was the first city in France to get a new guided light transit system. Clermont-Ferrand is famous for hosting one of the world’s leading international festivals for short films, the Festival du Court Metrage de Clermont-Ferrand, as well as the corporate headquarters of Michelin, the global tire company created more than 100 years ago.