7 Jun, 15h40
L'ERC confirme que la Fédération Française de Rugby a retiré sa demande d'accueil des finales 2014 de la H Cup et de l'Amlin Challenge Cup, en raison de l'incertitude quant à la disponibilité du Stade de France.
They are playing very well in the Celtic League, are second in the table but with games in hand. They've big, big performers, like Stephen Jones, back from his two-year stint in Clermont Auvergne, and his Wales and Lions half-back partner Dwayne Peel. Last season, when they didn't have Jones and were already out of contention, we were hard-pressed to beat them 49-42.
A lot has happened to myself personally and with Toulouse since the end of October. I flew home on November 2nd to see the Compromise Rules between Ireland and Australia, and Compromise it wasn't. Well, we all know what happened, but there were so many off the ball incidents, you wondered if there was any need for a ball at all.
From round balls to oval balls. We played Bourgoin on Friday November 10th. It was Fred Michalak's first game back after a six week lay-off with a knee injury. With so many internationals on test duty and others injured, it was just the lift we needed. He had a fantastic first 40 minutes, playing like only Fred can, but early in the second half he took a late tackle on the bad knee. Bang. Fred is out again for, more than likely, the rest of the season. His cruciate ligament was operated on a few days later. One minute you're on top of your game, the next you're in No Man's Land.
I think back to the 2003 World Cup and Freddy was the wonderkid, the player over the tournament until the semi-final. I also can't help but think of a good friend of mine, William Servat. Dynamic in the loose, two years ago he blew onto the scene with Toulouse and France. Himself and Pascal Pape were the new French kids on the block. France won the 2004 Grand Slam and Will was voted onto a World XV at hooker.
But then he had trouble with a slipped hernia disc in his neck, which he had to have operated on. This season he's played a couple of comeback games for the Espoirs, but because he's over 23 the rules prevent him from playing in the frontrow, so he's been restricted to playing in the backrow. The only three games he's got with the first team were when the international players were away, at home to Bourgoin, where he came on as a replacement and scored a try, and at home to Brive, when we lost, and away to Albi, when we drew.
Willy probably won't be in the squad this week, instead playing number eight for the Espoirs. That's how fickle it can be. It could have been worse. He could be in limbo land. But the one good thing is that he signed a four-year contract before his neck problems.
For the first test between France and New Zealand the day after our win over Bourgoin, Yannick Bru asked a few us, along with wives and girlfriends, over to his house for a party to watch the game. It was almost funny watching New Zealand run rings around France, and the second test wasn't much better for France, before they scraped past Argentina by a point. The lads merely watched on and admitted the All Blacks were playing in 'an autre monde' (another world).
Like ourselves at Toulouse, France have their problems. There were a few calls for Bernard Laporte to go, but that won't happen before the World Cup. But there's also been a lot of stuff written about how the French players are suffering from fatigue and burn-out.
There's a lot of talk about Ireland over here after their wins over South Africa and Australia, with people saying it was a pity they didn't get to play New Zealand. It was good to see Denis Hickie back to his best and scoring one of the best tries I've ever seen him score.
The strength in depth, the structure, the way the players are managed are all paying off. People ask me what they do differently in Ireland, and I try to explain that where we might play between 40 and 45 games a year over here, they might play 20 to 25. They're working to ensure the players are fresh and I explain that they are really only four professional 'clubs' with about 120 professional players.
By contrast, our internationals have to front up immediately, because we need the results. I know it's a bit rich of me to say this, but there are also too many overseas players playing in the Top 14. According to one newspaper report I read, over 50% are from abroad, and an example of the problems this causes for the French team is at prop. The French have largely been rotating three props since the 2003 World Cup, Olivier Milloud, Sylvain Marconnet and Pieter de Villiers.
In the Top 14, 47 of the 103 props who are registered in the Top 14 are foreigners from 13 different countries. The Argentinians have 11 props, Georgia, South Africa and Samoa six apiece, five are from Romania, three are New Zealanders, two each from Italy, Tonga and England, with one each from Canada, Congo, Uruguay and Morocco. The Top 14 clubs are not bringing through a future generation of props. And that's just one position.
We had our own problems through the November test schedule. We played three games without 17 of our 33 professionally contracted players. Nine of our internationals were on test duty, one was suspended, and seven players were injured.
That's just the way it is in the modern professional game, but sometimes people don't understand how or why we then might lost at home to Brive and draw with Albi. We had Yannick Jauzion, who's a centre, playing at outhalf, then moved Valentin Courrent, our scrumhalf to outhalf, and moved Vincent Clerc to scrumhalf.
Jeff Dubois, our other outhalf, will hopefully be back next week but in the meantime we've signed the Springboks and Cheetahs outhalf Gaffie du Toit as our wild card. Ironically, he made his test debut the same day I first played for Ireland back in 1998 in Bloemfontein.
Hector O hEochagain got to hang with the HorseBox, ie myself, for a few days. It was a funny few days, and he's obviously really hit the big time now, hanging out with me. Before me, he's done programmes with the likes of Johnny Kenny of D'Unbelievables, Johnny Murtagh, Ken Doherty, our Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and numerous others.
It's scheduled to be shown on RTE in February and I'd say it will be some laugh. Let's just say the French have never seen anything or anyone like him. I spoke to him after the game, and asked him if he got much stuff from the Supporters. So here he was introducing himself to one Stade fan.
"How's it going? Hector O hEochagain from Ireland. Trevor Brennan, what does he bring to Toulouse?"
"Trevor Brennan? He has a bar."
"No, no, no. What does he bring to Toulouse?"
"The name of the bar is De Danu."
Obviously I'm better known for the bar nowadays than the rugby. But he said he got some good stuff. We hung around the markets, we played a bit of boules; it was a great few days. He's doing a four-part series with RTE, and is also doing a programme with Celtic, with the runner in Cork, Dervla O'Rourke, and the actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
Respect Hector. His crew went home after that weekend with sore heads and vowing they'd do no more programmes with anyone who owns a bar.
Physically I feel a lot better than I did earlier in the season, and the back pain is gone. I'll probably be on the bench in Llanelli. We're going into this game possibly as unprepared as we've ever been, with all the chopping and changing. But we go there knowing it's a must-win game. Our European Cup campaign could be over come this Saturday, and we realise this.