Our first Christmas in France was probably good for my wallet and good for my head, if not so much for my body. The holiday period is a busy time in the French Championship and we've played three matches since our Heineken Cup win over Leeds.
The first of those games way away to Grenoble, the first time I've travelled there. It's a long trip too, 600kilometres on a bus to Grenoble, which is in the Alps. We met up at 11am the day before, had a team run, a bit of lucnh and then set off on the six hour trip, with just a brief one-stop for a stretch of the legs and a bit of a snack.
The scenery was beautiful the further we went and the closer we got to the Alps, with the snow-tipped mountains. Our hotel was at the base of the Alps and there were plenty of ski-ers around town but we tried not to get into the holiday mode.
The match was a 12,000 sell-out, which was quite good for Grenoble and we won the game well, which made the trip home that little bit more enjoyable. With a 7.30 kick-off, it meant that after a quick bite to eat we didn't hit the road until 11.00 that night. And we didn't arrive home until 6.30 in the morning as there was a one-and-a-half hour delay on the motorway due to a crash.
The spirits were good for the first hour or so of the trip as one of the boys had grabbed two bottles of whiskey and a few bottles of coke aswell as a few glasses from the reception after the match.
There was a game of cards and a bit of a sing-song at the back of the bus. The boys know the first three verses of Dirty 'Oul Town so only another three to go. I should have that done by the end of the three years. However, two bottles of whiskey between 20 fellas can only last so long and the spirits weren't long in drying up either.
On the Saturday I headed in to the market near where we live now to buy the turkey and ham, and then in to town for a few last-minute gifts. I put the turkey and ham into our new fridge but by Christmas Eve the smell coming out of the fridge wasn't too good.
A lot of phone calls were made home to the ma and the brother, who's an ex-butcher. There was a kryto factor, it had turned so green. Should we eat it or whould we not? By Christmas Day the turkey was ready to run out of the fridge by itself so it went into the bin.
Christmas dinner consisted of just a ham and veg, but no turkey. It turned out that the seal on the new fridge was broken but that didn't stop my mother having a good go at me for buying the turkey five days before Christmas Day. She only picked up hers at 6.00 on Christmas Eve. What can you expect? It was our first Christmas away from home. We'll use that bit of experience for next year.
On St Stephen's Day, co-incidentally, the young fella had a touch of gastro entiritis. Paula was holding Daniel over the toilet saying: "You poor fella. God help you."
To which Daniel said: "God's not helping me at all."
We had another big game coming up on the day before New Year's Eve at home to Perpigan, who have made a good start to the season and are winning our section of the French championship.
Mick O'Driscoll had sent me a text asking me if I was up for a war. I thought it was quite funny, as I'm sure he was joking but also quite serious aswell. We were delighted to come out of that game with a win aswell.
I'd had a phone call from Denis Hickie asking me if I could meet up with a friend of his called Brian O'Hanrahan, who was coming over to Toulouse for eight weeks to do some training on the new airbus service between
Toulouse and Dublin. He was looking to meet up with me and hoping to get to the odd match so I left some tickets for him at the gate.
I had a couple of beers with Micko after the game and we had a good chat. Perpignan are going well, and are ahead of us on points difference now. He's playing very well. He scored after four minutes of his debut but then got a bad knee injury and has only got back into the team recently. But he seems to have nailed down a spot in the second-row over the last few weeks.
I think he was the last on the bus back to Perpignan and we'll definitely meet again in a social context, even if it's half-way between there and Toulouse.
Myself and Brian hit the town but I had a pool recovery session the next morning. After that, I stocked up the wood beside the fire and put a couple of bottles of champagne on ice to get ready for New Year's Eve. At midnight we rang in the New Year and then again an hour later when made a few phone calls back home. There were plenty of fireworks around the neighbourhood but I was mindful that we had another game against Biarritz on January 3rd.
We had New Year's Day off, met that night, and travelled down the next day, which wasn't the best preparation for a game. The coach decided to rest a lot of players, the likes of Yannick Bru, Fabien Pelous, Frederic Michalak, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and Cedric Heymans.
Sometimes that can work for you and sometimes that can work against you, and this was definitely one of those occasions when it worked against us. We lost the game 37-20, and in Toullouse terms that's a hammering.
I had to go off with a blood injury at one point, and Fabien came on in my place. It transpired later that he had damaged his medial ligament. The initial fear was that he would be out for five or six weeks, but after a scan it's reckoned that he'll only be gone for a maximum of 15 days.
I picked up a shoulder injury in the first minute of the game, literally from the first kick-off. I had a dead arm but like most players in those situations I was hoping it would go away. I didn't want to be holding my hand up and coming off after just a few minutes. I don't know whether it was brave or stupid but I stuck it out for 80 minutes and I'm paying for it this week.
We watched a video of the game on Monday and it was pointed out that I missed three tackles. But I didn't have the courage to tell the coach that my shoulder was hanging off. Pas excuse.
I've been getting physio every day this week but I'll hopefully be alright, which means I'll be playing in the second-row at home to the Neath-Swansea Ospreys. But my troubles are nothing compared to those of our injured centre Xavier Garbajosa.
On adjoining bikes in the fitness room the other day, I was talking to him and I asked him when he might be back. He said it could be six months, a year, two years or maybe never. He's been told that basically there's no cartilage whatsoever on one of his knees. He's pretty much in pain for every hour of the day. It just doesn't go away and every time he runs it flairs up again.
I asked him if he has a personal insurance policy and it turns out it's with the same agent as mine. It just nailed home how important it is for players to have insurance, expensive as it might be. It's a short career, and more and more seem to be getting cut shorter by injuries.
As part of the build-up to next month's Cardiff 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals weekend, ERC has joined forces with the WRU, Cardiff Blues and adidas to develop an annual grassroots community rugby programme targeting young players.
The Ulster Rugby full back, Jared Payne (No 15), has been suspended for two (2) weeks following an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Dublin arising from the Heineken Cup quarter-final match against Saracens at Ravenhill Stadium on Saturday, 5 April.