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.
The team announcement. I have to say it's good to be back. Guy Noves picked me at seven, and with Christian Labit rested the back-row is made up of myself, Isitolo Maka at eight and Jean Bouilhou at six. I have to say that the number seven shirt, which is usually measured up for Jean Bouilhou, is a tight fit and I struggled to get into it. With the help of Christian Labit and Isitolo Maka I managed to get it over my head. We watched a video of our game against Northampton and a couple of Northampton's league matches from a few weeks before, pointing out mistakes they'd made. I pointed out that they'd have done their own video analysis and with a new coaching team probably weren't going to make the same mistakes. I'm not sure that my comments were appreciated, but there you go.
That night in the hotel we watched the Bourgoin-Leinster game after our meal. The usual banter started off with a few of the lads. Florian Fritz shouts across the table that my old team are going to get beaten tonight. I say not a chance and I'm thinking of giving him a 40 point start for a EUR20 bet but Alfie advised me that it's going to be a tighter game than that so myself and Florian settle on a straight bet. Bourgoin had obviously targeted this game, like a few French sides last weekend, and in the end Leinster were a little lucky to get only their second win in ten years in France thanks to a bit of Brian O'Driscoll majic.
Florian calls up to my room with the EUR20. I said it was okay but he insisted on paying his debts. It turns out that the match is a near 20,000 sell-out. Northampton brought about 1,500 supporters and I have to admit they were noisy, and at times outshouted the Toulouse supporters. It was another one of those games, like the week before, when we had plenty of try-scoring chances but couldn't convert them, Northampton making their tackles or managing to slow our ruck ball or kill it.
One thing that has been working very well this season has been our rolling maul which earned us our one try. A lot of our backs aren't too pleased with this as at certain times they feel they should be getting the ball.
At half-time Guy Noves gives us our normal bollicking but he picks me out for special attention. He tells me that I'm not an out-half and I'm not to be in the slot between numbers nine and ten, because I didn't have the vision or the skill of a number ten. I'm a catch the ball and straight up type of player. I know he's only doing his job. All taken on board!
To be honest it was a pretty hard game for myself personally. I'd been two weeks out of action after my knock-out and I found the game physically very tough. There was also a bit of a memory loss. I had forgotten a few of the calls for line-outs and back-row moves etc and I had to keep asking guys to remind me of them during the game.
We still haven't really clicked but it's difficult when so many players have been away on international duty. I think we're a lot like Munster, and like them we'll hopefully get better.
I managed to watch the first-half of the Munster game in a brasserie in the Stade ground. It looked like quite a close contest in the first-half but I couldn't get to see the second as I had to do my bit in the sponsor's tent.
By all accounts the Munster ten came good. The father, aka the Fanatic, had arrived over on Thursday with his brother The Rotweiller, his wife Cillo and her friend Denise. I had picked them up
at the airport, dropped them off at their hotel and left them to their own devices, not to see them again until Saturday night.
They were in great spirits by the time I met up with them. It turns out that Georgie, the Rotweiller, had been sipping wine since ten in the morning at Place Wilson. "Just catching up with a couple of the locals," as he put it.
That night the squad went for a meal in the St Tropez off Victor Hugo car park. I had booked a table for Paula and the gang although it's forbidden to bring family or friends to these post-match meals. I was living on the edge. But I had asked the owner to put them out the back in the conservatory with the old gas heaters and with the peasants, while we lived it up in the dining-room. But Paula and Gemma were spotted by some of the players and myself and Alfie got a EUR30 fine.
A nice family day. Toulouse is looking really festive, with Place Capitol done up in lights and Christmas shacks. Alfie has been getting the players to call me Scrooge after I hopped the ball with him by telling him that I had only got Josh and Daniel a box of 50 metal dinkies for EUR9.99 and a selection box of small chocolates for EUR3.99 in a sale. I told him that they're not very demanding kids and that we're trying to introduce them to the less commercial and more spiritual side of Christmas!
We have two more games left before Christmas against Auch away and Pau at home, and when we came back to training today Guy Noves was stressing how important these games are in the context of the French championship as when the Six Nations resumes and our internationals will be away, we'll be playing Perpignan, Stade Francais and Agen away. So these games are massive
and the pressure is back on again.
Alfie has also taken to calling me Chicken Wings, as he reckons I need to bulk up, so twice a week, in addition to the training and the weights we do with the club, himself and myself put in an extra weights' session. That's where I'm off to now. But I shouldn't complain. It's a good life. We have a week off over Christmas and then we come back to training on January 2nd, to get ready for the resumption of the Heineken Cup. Until then, a bientot.
(In an interview with Gerry Thornley).