Bordeaux - Australian veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper, busy honing his "Frenglish" skills with Bordeaux-Begles, has admitted to AFP that playing in the Top 14 and European Cup was proving a tough physical challenge.
The 31-year-old joined the club in southwest France on a two-year deal after Australia's run to the 2015 World Cup final where they lost to trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand.
Ashley-Cooper has since been instrumental in Bordeaux's rise to fifth in the ever-competitive Top 14, the Raphael Ibanez-coached club looking well set for a spot in the season-ending play-offs between the top six finishers.
"It's a great competition, very different for me," the Sydney-born outside back told AFP in an interview. "It's obviously a lot longer for me than back home.
"With the two competitions of the Top 14 and European Cup put together, it's about 30 or 40 games in the season so it can be very challenging physically and mentally.
"It requires a bigger depth and a different strategy to rugby back home but I'm enjoying that challenge."
Ashley-Cooper added: "There's a lot of focus and emphasis over here on the set piece, particularly around the scrum, lineout and driving maul.
"The game here is more of a wrestle around set piece so you have a lot more stoppages in play and less freedom to play.
"Individually, regardless of where I'm playing, I put pressure on myself to win.
"If you don't have that pressure, you're not going to perform.
"We put pressure on ourselves to win this competition. For us it's all about making the finals."
Capped 114 times by Australia, Ashley-Cooper was convinced by fellow Wallabies Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell and James O'Connor, who ply their trade in Toulon, that the whole France package was a good deal.
And they had not been proved wrong, Ashley-Cooper said, adding that their advice for succeeding in France had been "to roll with the punches and go with the flow".
"I'm enjoying the change and I'm really enjoying my time in France," the former Brumbies and Waratahs back said.
"It's culturally very different from back home. The language is hard, I'm learning a few hours a week.
"There's not much stress, there's good food, socially they involve a lot of people.
"It's a really good life. More than anything it's the change in cultures and lifestyle that I'm enjoying and I'm really embracing."
Ashley-Cooper joked that the Bordeaux backline spoke a "mix of the two languages, a hybrid, 'Frenglish'. I try to speak francais as much as I can but sometimes I can't help it!”
One of just six Wallaby Test centurions, Ashley-Cooper acknowledged that he had a central role in the Bordeaux backs.
"I wouldn't say I'm the boss," he said. "I'm a leader, I'm expected to share my experiences and my leadership with the team. It's a pretty young backline.
"I try and communicate as much as I can. I've played over 100 Tests so I've got a responsibility to lead by example."
Ashley-Cooper said he was focused entirely on Bordeaux's fate and not on winning further Australian caps, with Wallaby coach Michael Cheika due to make a tour of Europe to cast an eye over foreign-based players.
"He's touching base, staying connected with his players who are playing overseas," Ashley-Cooper said.
"He's obviously got ambitions to do really well this year from an international perspective.
"At the moment myself and (Bordeaux's Wallaby prop) Sekope Kepu haven't given that much thought to the Rugby Championship. My thoughts are solely on Bordeaux. After the season, then we'll make a decision.
"Physically, it's demanding, I've played a lot of football and I'm not getting any younger. I've just got to stay on top of myself physically and make sure I do everything I can do to play great rugby."