(In an interview with Gerry Thornley, The Irish Times).
A funny old week all round. Practical jokes happen all the time in rugby and you'd want to have your wits about you here at Toulouse. Jean-Baptiste Elisasalde plays both outhalf and scrumhalf for us, and both his grandfather and his father played for France. He's a talented lad, about 25, and quick, but he's never moved quicker than he did in the middle of an interview with local television after training last Wednesday.
The boys had got wind of him doing the interview and the forwards were first back into the dressing-room after some circuit training. So they got hold of his Calvin Kleins and put some wintergreen or deep heat type of substance inside them. He came rushing in, showered and threw on his clothes, and was followed outside by 15 or 20 of us.
During the interview he started pulling at the front and back of his pants, his face getting more and more irritated. Then, in mid-interview, he suddenly runs off, jumps over the wall and was nearly naked by the time he got to the dressing-room. He jumped into the bath but that was hot, so then he put a cold hose over himself and started screaming for the doctor.
People were in stitches while the woman who interviewed him is looking at the cameramen as if to say: "what did I do wrong?" I'd say Jean-Baptiste was red and sore for a few hours after, and he wasn't exactly a happy camper.
As you can see, it was a fairly relaxed build-up to last Sunday's game against London Irish. I went to the flicks that night with Paula to see a Version Originale, a V.O. as they say over here, of Gangs of New York. A waste of three hours, a mix of Mad Max and Teletubbies; Daniel Day Lewis playing Mad Max and Leonardo di Caprio being one of the Teletubbies. Cameron Diaz was about the only thing worth going to see but even three ours can be a bit too much for any man. Pure violence from the word go, three hours in the butchers would be as much fun and with less blood on the floor.
Thursday was a light session and usually Thursday would be a free day but because the match was on Sunday we were off on Friday. I just do a few things around town. We met up in the club at 8.30 for a bit of breakfast and we were in the airport for 9.30, and departed at ten.
We stayed in the Madjeski Hotel which is part of the Madjeski Stadium in Reading. It's a fantastic set-up. There was a football match between Reading and Walsall on Saturday night. We had access to the corporate boxes from the hotel for about ten minutes, which was grand as it was a scoreless draw. Straight after the game the goals come down, the rugby posts are put up and the pitch is re-marked.
I was under the impression that the whole London Irish set-up was here but when I rang Bob Casey that night to say how impressed I was he told me they only go there on match days and that it's an hour from London. We trained that evening on the Reading all-weather pitch up the road from the hotel.
It was still fairly relaxed. Everybody seemed to be doing calculations that night to see who we could be playing in the quarter-finals. We knew we had the home quarter-final. Not that we went out to lose the game, and it was a fairly close encounter; 32-29. We gave away too many penalties and a few easy tries. It was just an under-par performance by Toulouse on the day.
Guy Noves left Vincent Clerc, Jean Bouilhou and Clement Poitrenaud off the team, but when these three came off the bench straight away Clerc scored a try. He also moved Frederic Michalak to number ten but in saying all that we did go out to win. It was just that London Irish played a fairly tough, physical game and on the day they were a better side.
There was an odd bit of banter with Barry Everitt, Kieron Dawson and especially Bob, but nothing malicious. Any time Bob tackled me he'd ask me was I alright and vice versa, and whenever one of their lads put me down I'd hear him shout, 'that's a great hit, put that ****er down.' Afterwards Bob came in to swap jerseys with me and wish me well, and then all the London Irish boys did the same, which was a nice gesture.
We'd watched the first half of the Munster game on the Saturday. It was fantastic to see them win. I was asked by one of the Midi Olympique journalists what I thought of Munster. I said they were like Vinny Jones' character in that movie Snatch. He was nicknamed The Bullet, he keeps getting shot but he keeps coming back for more. They're just a team that never lies down. They will always come back. The feeling over here is that Munster are a good side and that there's a bit of payback due to Leicester for the final last year.
But the main talking point is Biarritz scoring 13 tries against Cardiff to edge out Bourgoin. The last president of Biarritz was Serge Blanco, and he's now President of the French League, which controls players' wages and suspensions and just about everything.
The Bourgoin coach Philippe Saint-Andre has thrown his hat at it, saying that five tries against Sale should have seent them through. Their president, Pierre Martinet, has said the Biarritz-Cardiff game was fixed, and that the Cardiff players didn't tackle at all. There was three hours of discussion on local television last night about it.
The president of Marselle Martin has said 'this is just sport and we did what we had to do." He also said they'd have prefered to play Toulouse rather than Leinster, because it would have been easier for supporters to get to the game, and that they'd know Toulouse better as a team.
Biarritz have a big pack with old heads in it. Jean-Michel Gonzalez is 35, and has about 60-odd caps, Olivier Roumat is 36 and about the same number of caps, Thomas Lievrement has about 25 caps and Serge Betsen is currently in the French team. The winger Philippe Bernat-Salles has around 50 caps and the full-back Brusque is currently in the French squad aswell.
As Yannick Bru was saying to me, they're the kind of pack that likes to play it slow. Good scrummagers, good line-out, they like to pick and go. They don't like to play too fast a game, and knowing Leinster, they mightn't actually suit Biarritz.
We beat Biarritz in a friendly by about 20 points. They're second in their pool behind Stade Francais, but in saying that they're the current French champions so nothing can be taken for granted.
We play Colomiers in a local derby next Saturday. It's a big match so straight after last Sunday's game everybody was talking about this one. They're bottom of our pool and fighting against relegation. But the last time we played them it was 12-9 to us, four kicks to three and pretty scrappy.
We'll be at home to Northampton in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals next April. Obviously they don't know an awful lot about Northampton here and they're asking me because Leinster beat them home and away two years ago. Northampton have changed an awful lot since then, but everybody here seems pretty happy that we've a home tie. That's the main thing.
Sunday was just a blip really. I wouldn't worry too much about it.
(In an interview with Gerry Thornley, The Irish Times).