When time was called on Corey Flynn’s Crusaders career, you could have forgiven him for hanging up the boots. Flynn had bridged two generations in red and black, taking over from Mark Hammett and handing over to Codie Taylor and Ben Funnell. Today, he is still in red and black, and has travelled from rugby mad Canterbury to rugby madder Toulouse. We got on the line to him in France for a chat about screaming fans, home advantage, and – yes – playing on emotion.
TSOS: You’re up late old son.
Corey Flynn: Tell me about it. It’s 11pm and I think everyone’s just going out to dinner. Ah well, that’s French life for ya. They’re pretty unreal people. I’ll just put some clothes on and do my hair.
You don’t need to worry about that mate. You can be nude on the phone.
I’m in France now. You have to look your best for every occasion.
You’ve just had four weeks off thanks to RWC2015. Feel good for the break?
It does feel good actually, even though we are only four games into the season (Toulouse are currently third behind Clermont and Montpellier). Now that the pool stages are over all the Romanians, Georgians and Tongans can all come back and play in the Top 14. Thank goodness for that.
You’re in your second season in Toulouse. Are you enjoying the club?
It’s a storied club for sure. It’s pretty amazing too in terms of facilities. We have three fields – two grass and one artificial turf – to train on, and the club has just built a brand new performance centre so no one here wants for anything. It’s chalk and cheese when compared with New Zealand though.
Chalk and Cheese? Why’s that?
Well, how long is your story? No, look there are similarities for sure, but in a funny way, playing here feels like it did when I first started playing professional rugby. There is still a freedom of expression in rugby here, that freedom has not been coached out of the game. And the approach is different too. After a win the boys will have a couple of beers in the sheds in the same way we used to before recovery became a major focus in the game. It’s good, actually. Mind you, when you lose it still feels like you’re on your way to a funeral!
You always struck me as a man who had the emotional range of the Terminator. How do you cope with all that?
There have been times since I arrived when I have thought, ‘What have I done?’ but on those rare occasions I have taken a stroll into town, sat and ate a beautiful meal and enjoyed a bottle of red and soon enough I’ve realised how good it is here.
The home and away factor in French rugby is so different to other places. Have you noticed that?
Oh most definitely. It’s amazing really. You can have the same starting line up and you’ll play great at home and then the very next week you’ll be crushed away. It’s almost as if you play a completely different game. Home teams here grow an extra leg. It is sacrilege to lose at home and as a player you notice that intensity when you are building toward a home fixture. It is not the same when you are travelling. I still don’t understand it.
The fans are pretty loose though..
Oh the fans are extraordinary here. Toulouse fans are similar to Canterbury and Crusaders fans – very one-eyed and extremely passionate. Unlike Cantabs, though, Toulouse fans are screaming, singing, dancing and yelling for 80 minutes, every game. They are so good. But most clubs are the same here in terms of the emotion of the crowds.
What of the games themselves, and the style of rugby?
Toulouse wants to play the beautiful game. I remember last year under coach Guy Noves (who will take over as France coach following the Rugby World Cup) we didn’t spend a lot of time on structure. This year, under Ugo Mola we are seeing a little more of that structure in our play. Aside from that, the games can be pretty rugged, and the season is a long one. Last year I think I played in 31 games for Toulouse, and that was on top of a season of Super Rugby.
What’s the strangest thing that’s happened to you in a match?
I was only a couple of games into my first season when I was red carded in an away game at Bayonne. I accidentally trod on a bloke’s ankle when he attempted to sack our maul and then I fell on Bayonne captain Mark Chisholm. Bloody Mark immediately complained to the home touch judge who referred it to the TMO and next thing I was given my marching orders. As I walked off, Mark was laughing, saying “Sorry mate, I didn’t think they’d send you off!” It pays to know French I guess.
How is your French?
Two things: one, I have no confidence to speak it, and two, I’m hopeless. My kids are at bilingual school here and I am slowly picking up the rugby phrases and the every day stuff, but I don’t think I’ll ever be fluent.
You have some seriously heavyweight team mates. How are they treating you?
Yeah, there are some real stars at the club – think Thierry Dusautoir, Louis Picamoles, Vincent Clerc, Maxime Medard – and they are all long term French internationals and bloody good guys to be around. They have been great in welcoming me to the club. We also have a great bunch of expats here – Joe Tekori, Census Johnston, Luke McAlister and Neemia Tialata are always good for a laugh.
Okay then, I challenge you to analyse the France v New Zealand World Cup Quarterfinal without using the words “flair”, “unpredictable” and “emotion”.
That’s simply not possible. You have to understand that having played with a lot of these guys I know that underestimating them is a bad idea. They can play for 80 minutes on pure emotion and that’s what makes them so tough.
There is a lot of the Toulouse way in this French team, and they want to play the beautiful game too. They will just keep coming at the All Blacks, that much I do know.
But you think the All Blacks will win?
I’m an out and out kiwi and I have a lot of mates in that All Blacks team. I hope they are on their game and that they can get the job done. I just want to be able to turn up to training on Monday in my old All Blacks kit.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.