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.
I was the very lucky winner of your VIP competitionin association with SKY Magazine for an all expenses weekend to Cardiff for the Heineken Cup Final match between Munster and Biarritz Olympique. I'm a real football fan - I've had a season ticket at Old Trafford for the past 16 years - and had never before attended a rugby match.
The main thing I noticed from my experience as a football fan and having attended the Millennium Stadium on numerous occasions for FA Cup and League Cup Finals was the difference in atmosphere all weekend. I felt far more relaxed as fans mingled and drank in the same pubs together - this is far removed from the intense supporter rivalry between a Man Utd v Liverpool cup final for example! I was also surprised at the sheer numbers - particularly of the Munster fans - there must have been 70,000 in the Stadium and perhaps 10,000 still outside the ground who'd travelled to sample the atmosphere.
I'm somewhat ignorant of the rules of rugby union but myself and my partner became adopted Munster fans for the weekend - partly down to the anglo-gallic rivalry but mainly due to the warmth shown to us by a group of Munster fans on the Friday night - they explained to us how they'd lost the last 2 finals and the 'hand of god' incident with Neil Back and also how my bottle of Magners cider never ran dry as we all bought each other beer until the early hours of Saturday morning !
The game itself was exciting as Biarritz took an early (and disputed) lead. The crowd was just a sea of red and it was pretty impressive to hear 70,000 Munster fans singing 'The fields of Athenrey'anthem (a tune I've hated as I've always associated it as a Liverpool anthem but the Munster fans explained to me that this was their original song that Celtic football club had adopted and Liverpool had copied Celtic). I found it almost surreal when the crowd hushed as both sides took penalties - I couldn't imagine myself being quiet on the receiving end of a Steven Gerrard penalty! I felt Munster were always in control but you were always worried Biarritz could pinch a try - and you could sense the feeling of relief amongst the Munster fans as the referee blew the final whistle.
The celebrations afterwards were great as both teams did a lap of honour and celebrations after the match went on late until Sunday morning - it would have been rude not to join in!
Thanks very much for your organisation of the trip - the hotel was beautiful and matchday hospitality was great.
Once again thanks very much to yourself and Sky for a wonderfully relaxed weekend and really impressive spectacle - both myself and Jayne will remember our visit to the Heineken Cup Final for many years to come.