18 May, 15:44
It's down to the wire now for the five contenders who have been shortlisted for the ultimate individual accolade in northern hemisphere rugby, ERC European Player of the Year 2013.
Rain, rain, and more rain, huh? Pitches everywhere in the south of France are waterlogged, even our training pitch. It makes it verry difficult for practice, never mind playing.
The lads are slagging me, saying that they didn't have this Irish weather until I came to Toulouse. I explained back to them that Irish weather is different from this. If you don't like the weather in Ireland you just wait five minutes and it changes. Snow, wind, rain, sunshine, whatever. At least there's variety.
I sat in and wathed the game on television between Leinster and the Cardiff Blues. What a cracker. The pace in the first 20 minutes was as good as you'd get anywhere. Leinster looked like they were going to walk this one.
I have to say that one player stood out for me. We wouldn't have seen eye to eye in my time at Leinster, in that we had our moments, because we were always competing for the same spot. But I've always respect for the guy, you can't take away from the fact that he's a good player and Eric Miller was flying in that first half-hour he was on the pitch.
With Quinnell in the bin, the Blues started to play. Suddenly it was 17-17 and anybody's game. Leinster scraped it, but I think any Leinster player or supporter would admit that they were lucky to get through this one with a win.
No matter what day you turn on the telly now there seems to be a rugby match. There was a time when you could only get an international match on the tv. Now there seems to be two or three matches on every day. Fair play to Sky Sports, they've done a great job working alongside Canal +, RTE and other tv networks in trying to get as many matches as possible.
I watched the Agen-Northampton game, the first match Agen have lost at home in 64 games. The last time they lost at home was in 2001 against Montferrand. Anyone who saw this game will know what I mean about the rain. Northampton killed them up front, had a very good defence and Paul Grayson just kicked penalties all night. It was obviously a huge win for them, almost on the scale of beating Munster at Thomond Park.
Things seem to be picking up this week, as we have a direct flight in to Leeds. The hotel we're staying in is attached to Yorkshire Cricket Club, which backs on to Headingley, and just behind it is the Leeds ground, which they share with the Leeds Rhinos rugby league team.
This week we have rooms to ourselves on the third floor, where all the bedrooms back on to corporate boxes. Each room is named after famour Yorkshire and English cricketers and my room has Tony Nicholson's name on it. The cricket ground holds 16,00 people and by the time they add on a new section to the stand it will have an 18,000 capacity but one of the guys downstairs I was talking to says it's only ever full for test matches or one-day internationals. Usually they only get about 1,000 during the week.
We had the team run and the pitch was in good condition. Our hooker Yannick Bru was giving out about a gully half a foot deep all the way around the pitch. It was like a trench. I shouted over him to in French that it would be okay, we'd bring a chair for him so he could stand on it when he was throwing the ball in.
When we headed back to the hotel I caught a bit of the Ulster-Stade Francais game. Losing 13-10 wasn't a bad effort in France. Stade mightn't be going well this year but at home any French side is hard to beat. Ulster could have got a draw in normal circumstances if David Humphreys had taken a drop goal but they needed the win. That's rugby for you. I watched the Gwent Dragons against Leicester. Mike Ruddock had said beforehand that this was basically Wales v England, and this was another great game.
Sitting in the bed, I watched a comedy called East is East, about a Pakistan family living in England, their way of life and their culture. Very funny. Trevor Brennan, film critic, recommends it.
Match day, 9am, a light run-out, but at 9.10am I was still in bed. No wonder, the bed I'm is like something you'd see on MTV _ The Crib, where they bring their cameras into the homes of famous sportspeople, actors and singers. It could have been Shaq O'Neill's bed. You could fit two families into it, but not sharing it with two kids it was great to get a good night's sleep.
It was the first time we had an early start in a while as lately most of our games have had night time kick-offs, so we normally wouldn't have had our stretch until about 12.00. Jean-Luc, our manager, came knocking down the door.
I felt we didn't play particularly well early on in the game, Freddie Michalak missed a penalty and Christian Labit, usually a big ball carrier for us, knocked the ball on a few times. We changed our kicker straight away, Elissalde taking over. But it was 3-3 at the end of the first-half.
At half-time everyone looked knackered. We got the second wind and then Guy Noves got started on us. He explained that we were playing badly and picked out the faults. Then he said: "Our European Cup could be over in 40 minutes," and "was that what we wanted? Or win and then we had it all to play for next week against Edinburgh?"
With those few words in people's heads, I think we realised how important the next 40 minutes were. Nobody said anything but the second half was a bit better. Itg wasn't that we changed tactics, more that Guy Noves had changed the mindset. It's not that we don't have the talent, it's just that sometimes the mindset isn't great away from home.
Last week against the Ospreys, in the first-half we scored four tries in the first half, and none in the second half. This week we scored none in the first half and four tries in the second half.
Match over. Job done. With a bonus point. The only bad note was an injury to Benoit Baby, our up and coming centre. He'll be out for six months after suffering a cruciate ligament tear and will have an operation this week. This is a player who'll play for France one day and he's lucky in that, at 21, at least he has time on his side.
At the post-match press conference journalists asked me what happened, why we played so badly in the first-half when Leeds had nothing to play for. My response was, what a joke. No team turns up to lose a match. When you've lost a few matches that's when teams are often at their most dangerous.
What can I say about the post-match interview on Sky? First question: were you happy with the win? Yes. Were you happy to score four tries and get a bonus point? Yes. Final question: what did the coach say to you at half-time to turn your performance around? Pause. Response: "Get you effin' fingers out of your arses lads."
Apologies to all those children watching. It's never a good idea to curse, especially on television. Plonker Trevor! No doubt that will be one of the top 100 bloopers of the year. I got about 30 text messages immediately. Back in the studio Conor O'Shea said that's the Irish for you, and that's as Irish as you'll get.
Sometimes you get emotional after games and as soon as you've said something you've said the wrong thing.
Monday, recovery session in Calicio, on Tuesday we did our Monday session as it were because we played on a Sunday, and Wednesday two sessions. Last night I ended up in hospital with the young fella. Himself and his brother, Josh is 2 and a bit and Danny is five and a bit, are at the age when they are killing each other.
We were due to go out to a neighbour's house. I was upstairs getting ready and Paula was tidying up in the kitchen. Next minute we hear the screams. Josh had been jumping around from table to couch and couch to table. I knew from looking at the head wound that it was bad enough to need a few stitches.
We stopped in on the neighbour, Mathieu, to tell me we'd be late and he came along with us to the hospital as he speaks very good English. He owns a bar called Toulasa in my village, Castel Ginest. At the hospital you give your social number and insurance number and then wait. We had to wait all of ten minutes and Matt was going mad with them. I tell him to relax, that is this was Ireland it would be ten hours.
Josh had calmed down. The doctor said he'd normally need six or seven stitches but they had a knew method of applying glue rather than stitches. Later I rang home to check how he was and he was jumping around from couch to table, and table to couch, so he obviously hasn't learnt his lesson.
Ten friends and family are coming over this weekend for the match, and more importantly The Fanatic. For those who don't know who The Fanatic is, let me tell you what qualifies him for the title.
According to him, TB is the best number 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8, not just in Ireland or even in Europe, but in the world. Every reporter who has ever written a bad word about TB, he has promised to have it out with him he ever meets that reporter. Ever coach who has ever dropped TB is only a b*****. When any team of TB's loses a match without him, he says TB should have been there.
In his sitting room, in the toilet, conservatory, shed, kitchen, you'll find a picture of TB. His wife has threatened to leave him because of his obsession. She says to him that they've had three sons but you'd swear he only had one son. If you were standing beside this man at a match you'd have to say TB was the best player in the world, or else...
Looking forward to seeing you Da.