AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France - Marseille's appearance on the French rugby map is quite recent, but the boiling Stade Velodrome, where Les Bleus will face Namibia in the World Cup on Thursday, already has a special place in the team's hearts.
Head coach Fabien Galthie was on the side who played France's first test at the Velodrome, against New Zealand in 2000 and he had vivid memories from that night of Nov. 18.
"We were staying in Aix-en-Provence and it was our first time at the Velodrome. The bus driver could not find the stadium so we arrived half an hour before kick off," Galthie told a press conference on Tuesday.
"We got off the bus and it turned out we were in the lobby of the Societe Generale (bank). The guys there were so happy that we paid them a visit just before the match.
"So we got back into the bus and got changed inside and we stepped into the dressing room 15 minutes before the game."
It was not the ideal pre-test routine for France, but the Stade Velodrome crowd gave them a memorable reception and Les Bleus were fired up when the referee blew the whistle.
"We had this idea to just go around the touchline and there was so much passion coming down from the stands, the fans were so close to us that when we briefly went back to the dressing room, we were boiling hot.
"After 15 minutes (11 minutes) we were 17-0 up," Galthie added.
France ended up winning the test 42-33.
Since then, the atmosphere has always been above par in Marseille, where France have won 11 of their 13 tests, the previous one last year when they beat South Africa 30-26.
"Against South Africa, you could not hear anything from two metres because of the noise. I can't wait to play in that arena again," said France fullback Thomas Ramos. REUTERS