WHILE the no-frills mountainside breezeblock that has been the Scotland squad’s home for the past few days may have been a shock to the system for some, Alasdair Strokosch was on familiar territory.
The 44-times capped former Edinburgh flanker has spent the past three seasons with Perpignan and the French club are regular visitors to Font Romeu, where Scotland are holding their World Cup training camp.
“We come up here every year. We don’t stay in the camp. We stay in a hotel in town, but we use all the facilities here for training,” explained the 32-year-old, who is aiming to make his second-successive World Cup. There has been plenty of discomfort, sweat and toil up in the Pyrenees but Strokosch said he does enjoy these type of retreats.
“Yes, it’s good fun” he said. “It’s all part of rugby that you have to build a team and there is more than one way to do it. We work hard together and then enjoy each other’s company as well.”
Strokosch left Edinburgh for five years at Gloucester in 2007 before making the move to south-west France. Being away from Scotland makes it all the more enjoyable to get the blue training gear on and be around some old compadres. A return to the environs of the national squad will perhaps be a soothing balm after what has been a painful couple of years for the fallen Catalan giants Perpignan, who have gone from Heineken Cup finalists in 2003 to relegation from the Top 14 in less than a decade. Hopes of a swift return to the top flight were dashed by defeat in the ProD2 play-offs on tries scored by Agen after a 32-32 draw.
Strokosch, who made a couple of forays off the bench for Scotland in this year’s Six Nations, and his young family love it in France and he hopes to fulfil the next two years on his contract and possibly extend his stay even further. He explained: “I had a two-year contract, but when we got relegated they basically said they could not afford it anymore so I took a pay cut to get a longer contract. I also felt I had a bit of responsibility to the club. We got relegated and I have played in most of the games. I thought it would have been a bit dishonest to have got the club relegated and then just run off at the first chance I got. I wanted to stay and try and get us back up.”
He may be a Glasgow boy by upbringing and has been away from the Capital for eight years now, but he does keep tabs on how his old club Edinburgh are doing and is confident they will prosper in the new season.
“I’m still in touch with a few of the boys. I keep in touch with Dicko [prop Al Dickinson] quite a lot because he’s one of my best mates there and he let’s me know what’s going on.
“It just took them a while to adjust to the new coach [Alan Solomons] but I think they are in a better place now.”
Edinburgh have been drawn with Perpignan’s play-off conquerors Agen in next season’s European Challenge Cup pool stage and Strokosch believes his former side can profit from the newcomers’ desperation to stay in the top flight.
“I can’t see Agen prioritising the challenge cup, to be honest,” he said. “They are going to have to battle to stay in the top 14 so I think that will be the focus for them.”
Strokosch made three appearances in Scotland’s ill-fated 2011 World Cup campaign and he is keen to make amends.
“It’s my last chance to play in a World Cup and the last one was pretty rotten,” he said. “It was the first time we had not come out the group, so I’d like to make up for that. I’d like to have a World Cup from which I could go out on a high.”