(In an interview with Gerry Thornley, The Irish Times).
As pre-match preparation goes, last Friday night's before our Heineken Cup game at home to Newport was probably the funniest and most unusual I've ever experienced. Three of the jokers in the team put together a brilliant eight-minute video that had everybody in stitches, and later than night I ended up sleeping on a mattress in the bath due to a sleepwalking, snoring teammate.
The three practical jokers, every week, are Fred Michalak, Nicolas Jeanjean and Clement Poitrenaud and they made a video basically taking the mick out of Yannick Bru, whose wife is about to have a baby. Michalak played Yannick's pregnant wife, with a wig and maek-up, Nicolas was Yannick and Clement played the doctor, complete with uniform. I walked into the middle of the 'shoot' but was told to stay clear and it would be shown later.
They did it quite professionally. Nicolas, playing Yannick, arrived to be told his wife was in labour and he headbutts everybody in sight, basically because he headbutted a guy after an Agen game a few months ago. It had everyone, players and coaches in stitches, and was watched again and again. Yannick may or may not have liked it, but he could do nothing but smile or laugh through it.
I had a bad night's sleep, because it turned out the guy I was room sharing with not only snored but he talked in his sleep and did a bit of sleep walking aswell. So I ended up dragging my mattress in through the bathroom and locking the door. That's straight up. I got the fright of my life and slept about three hours the night before the match.
Videos had been the theme of the week. When we assembled last Wednesday morning, our coach Guy Noves had a one-hour video session on our first meeting with Newport, which is not the done thing normally. Then in our hotel in Blagnac, about 10k outside Toulouse, on Friday, we watched a video of Newport's game with Cardiff at about 11.20 and how they'd changed their line-out systems and so on.
Thursday is a day off, so myself, Paula and the kids went sightseeing in three or four towns within a 50K radius of Toulouse, then finished up in the Toulouse shop. The players get a 30% discount there, which is one of the perks of the job. Paula bought about 20 new postcards of me to send back home, aswell as some of the other players, such as Fabien Pelous and David Gerard. The best thing on two legs apparently.
On the Friday we had a sponsor's session at about 3.00, match time the next day, and the temperature was minus three degrees. But, after it, every inch of the pitch was covered in plastic polythene, which were kept in place by bricks. They were taking absolutely no risks about the match being called off, which I thought was very professional.
By comparison, when we went to Newcastle last year, Rob Andrew had about 20 kids out with kettles of hot water trying to defrost the pitch on the Saturday morning of the match. He was insisting to the referee that the pitch was okay but you couldn't get a key into the ground! It was cancelled twice and eventually moved to Leeds on the Tuesday.
Even though it was minus three again for last Saturday's Newport match, and it was on both FR3 and Eurosport, about 12,000 turned up, which shows why Toulouse are the biggest club in France. Absolutely fantastic atmosphere. We were 28-6 at halftime and then in the second-half we ran out and scored three tries in six minutes. Kick-off _ try. Kick-off _ try. Kick-off _ try. It was like watching sevens.
With about 20 minutes to go he made six substitutions, including myself, and Newport scored two late consolation tries after we'd led 70-6. It was a good atmosphere in the dressing-room. Some tv crews were around and a couple of journalists were thrown into thre bath. They weren't too happy about it, as it included a mobile and a laptop.
I was asking David Gerard if they were good journalists or bad journalists. 'Tres sympatique, sympatique,' he said. So I'd hate to see what they'd do to bad journalists.
After the matches we all go to the temporary marquee which would hold 1500-2000 people comfortably. All the players are given six passes to give out. Everyone has their own section cornered off. I usually go down to mingle with the Bank Societe Generale. There's plenty of champagne and food, and I've never seen a bigger post-match get-together.
The night doesn't end there. The lads went on to a restaurant but I decided to take Paula out for a romantic meal for two. And then dropped her home and joined the guys for a drink later. 'Very romantic. An hour-and-a-half meal, then you drop me home and go out with the lads. Very romantic,' she said.
On Sunday mornings the squad goes to a health spa for a recovery session. Then 'vegged' on Sunday afternoon. In the evening neighbours asked us over for dinner but the kids had gone to bed, so they invited themselves over to our place, lugging over pots and pans aswell as food and wine. They believe in eating between 9 and 10 here, whereas we'd be used to eating at around 6 or 7 back home.
After dinner we watched the making of the war movie Black Hawk Down. A father of one of our neighbours was an air pilot in the Vietnam War and he was talking about his experiences. And another neighbour had served in the Foreign Legion and spent time in Somalia around the time of the war there.
It was a fairly interesting night I have to say. You're sitting there listening to a Vietnam Vet and someone who's served in the Foreign Legion, both talking freely about their experiences and drawing comparisons between them. A good meal, naturally, plenty of wine and good company.
They left about midnight and it was back to work on Monday. Our 20 minute warm-up is run by 'Saba', our athletics' coach who used to run fairly competitively himself for France and then was the French Olympics sprint and long distance running coach.
Then we did 40 x 100 metre sprints, 20 seconds to do them and 20 seconds recovery. Then some light weights and off for the afternoon. You never really see Guy Noves on a Monday and even when he's there he's often just observing.
Serge Lairle does the forwards and Philippe Rouge-Thomas (accent egu on the e), who played for France, does the backs. Guy Noves is like Alex Ferguson, and if he's unhappy he tells them what to do. But whatever he says goes at the end of the day, and come match day he's The Boss.
Tuesdays are more skills-orientated, but fitness-based aswell. There's no such thing as tackle bags or scrums, that all all comes on Tuesday evenings. On Wednesdays we have one session.
We'll travel to England for our game with London Irish on Sunday this Saturday. We need a win to make sure of a home quarter-final. They're fairly professional like that. We haven't celebrated anything yet. I'm sure Leinster are exactly the same.
A home quarter-final for us would be a 19,000 sell-out. They're talking about it already. I was at Daniel's school today and Paula said that the headmistress wanted to see me, could I collect him from school? So I was wondering had he had a fight or was he in trouble. She met me, said Bonne Annee (accent aigu on the first e) and asked me could I get here four tickets for the quarter-final? So they're booking their tickets already.
I was shocked by Munster's defeat. It kicked-off at the same time as our own game so I didn't see any of it. When I went into the marquee and somebody told me they lost 23-8 I was taken aback. There's a good Munster crew here in Toulouse who went up to the game in four carloads. So I rang one of them and he confirmed it. The Stade Aime Giral is, admittedly, one of the most intimidating grounds you can play in.
Leinster's progress doesn't suprrise me. They're a very professional outfit. Matt Williams really has them on their toes. I'd know exactly what he's putting them through. He's putting them through pain every day. One of Matt's sayings that always stuck with me was: 'If you want a bank holiday, go and work in a bank.'
Like last year, and now like Toulouse this year, Leinster again have five wins from five and play their last game on Sunday. Already I'm visualising a Leinster-Toulouse final at Lansdowne Road. As the man says, bring it on.