A QUICK glance at a French restaurant’s menu can cause shock for many foreigners.
It’s common to see plates piled with escargots (snails), cuisses de grenouille (frogs’ legs), and le cheval (the horse).
But for Albi Tigers recruit Zach Friend it was what he couldn’t find on his plate that was the biggest shock.
“Now it seems normal, but the first couple of weeks you’re like, ‘What? You guys don’t have bacon and eggs for breakfast? You’re kidding,’” Friend said.
“That was one of the biggest culture shocks.”
Fortunately enough he tracked down a serving of bacon and eggs in Toulouse, about 80km away – and was understandably pleased.
“There’s an Irish joint in Toulouse (De Danu) that has a full Irish breakfast,” Friend explained for those who were having second thoughts about visiting the south of France.
“I went there after a night out in Toulouse and it was outstanding. Full bacon and eggs, beans, tomato – the works. It was the best. That was a good little find.”
A quiet beer after a win tonight against St Esteve-Catalans Dragons in Albi’s second match of the competition’s second phase will be just reward for Friend, who will start the match at hooker before switching to the backrow.
It’s been a milestone week for the Noosa Pirates junior. The 23-year-old celebrated his birthday yesterday, and has spent the week in a temporary coaching role for the first time.
After their disappointing performance in the second half of last weekend’s 36-22 loss to Avignon Bisons, which they led 22-6 at half-time, the players were left to take charge.
Friend and fellow imports Brenton Horwood and Freddie Robinson took it upon themselves to prepare the team for today’s clash against the Dragons.
“[The loss] was heartbreaking,” Friend said. “We’ve basically had the reins to ourselves as a team. The coaches have given us the week on our own to sort it out [and] to try and work on our second halves and get that attitude right.
“It’s something different. It’s something I’ve never experienced before – leaving us to do it for the week but we’ll take in our stride and I think we’ll be right.”
[The French lessons] didn’t help too much either. I got here and I was like a deer in the headlights. – Zach Friend
The trio led from the front as the Tigers worked hard on the training paddock, interchanging between fitness and skill drills.
It’s their ability to function when they’re tired, which Friend believed needed the greatest improvement.
However, he’s confident the team is in the right frame of mind for Saturday night’s match.
“We trained really well [last night] which is a good sign,” he said.
“We’re just trying to work on our mentality when we’re under fatigue. We haven’t tried to change anything – just the attitude when we’re tired.
“When things don’t go our way instead of dropping our heads just thinking about getting on with the job. That’s the plan.”
Friend is currently partway through a primary school teaching degree at Southern Cross University.
The good student he is, the 23-year-old had did his homework in preparation for his arrival in France.
Friend had spoken to a few players who had played previously in the French Federation of Rugby League’s Elite 1 and 2 competitions.
He’d completed six French language lessons, along with Carcassonne front rower Oliver Percy and Percy’s girlfriend Emily.
He’d also had a taste of French in Year 8 at Noosa State High School. He was all set for life for tackling not only his opponents, but also the French language.
Well, so he thought.
“In hindsight I wished I paid more attention [in French class at school],” Friend said.
“When I was in class I was thinking, ‘When am I ever going to need this? When am I going to go to France?’ Everyone does it. I’ll never need this. And then it’s like, oh shit, now I’m living here.”
“[The lessons] didn’t help too much either. I got here and I was like a deer in the headlights.
“Until you’re surrounded by it you don’t realise how much you don’t understand.
“I thought I’d be alright. And then I walked out of the [airport] terminal and I was greeted by a couple of the old people at the club, and I had nothing. I was like, ‘Bonjour’ and then had nothing at all. It took me a while but it’s probably more of a confidence thing.”
Friend and Percy met at a Gold Coast Titans junior training camp when they were in their mid-teens and have been best mates ever since.
They played Holden Cup for the Titans together before joining Intrust Super Cup club Tweed Heads Seagulls after they’d graduated from the under-20s competition.
The plan was for the pair to join the same club in France.
“We both sent our CVs away at the same time and I got an offer from Albi about a week later and I just said, ‘Sweet. Yep. That’s for me,’ and I signed,” Friend explained.
“Oli’s came through about three weeks later from Carcassonne so it worked out well.”
Friend is yet to resign for the 2016-17 season, but is keen to prolong his stay in France.
He’s enjoying the change in lifestyle and believed that one season wasn’t enough to fully experience all the country has to offer.
“I’d love to play at least one more season,” he said.
“If I come back next year I’ll be able to settle quickly and then be able to make a real go of it. And I’ll know what to expect and be a bit more prepared for it.”
Tonight’s Elite 1 match between Albi and St Esteve Catalans Dragons kicks-off at 7pm at Albi at Stade Mazicou, Albi.